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THE MODERN LIBRA RY 

OF THE WORLD’S BEST BOOKS 


Selected Stories of Sholom Aleichem 


The publishers will be pleased to send, upon re¬ 
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Selected Stories of 

Sholom 

Aleicliem 


with an introduction by 
AIFJIEO KA/I\ 


V 7 prate? &>&«*■ 
Ubre,V &***<*’ 



THE MODERN LIBRARY • NEW YORK 



© Copyright, i*56, oy Alfred Kazin 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copy¬ 
right Conventions. Published in New York by Random House, Inc., 
and in Toronto, Canada, by Random House of Canada, Limited. 


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 56-8836 


“On Account of a Hat,” translated by Isaac Rosenfeld, and “The 
Pair,” translated by Shlomo Katz, in A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, 
edited by Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, copyright, 1954, by 
The Viking Press, Inc., and reprinted by permission of The Viking 
Press, Inc., New York. The remaining stories in this book were 
translated by Julius and Frances Butwin in The Old Country, 
copyright, 1946, by Crown Publishers, Inc., and reprinted by 
arrangement with Crown Publishers, Inc. 


Accession Number. 

Co:t lyitioo 








Random House is the publisher of The Modern Library 

BENNETT CERF • DONALD S. KLOPFER 

Manufactured in the United States of America by H. Wolff 





Library Sri ‘Frsst^^x 

Srinagar 


CONTENTS 


introduction by ALFRED KAZIN vii 
ON ACCOUNT OF A HAT 3 
THE PAIR 12 

THE TOWN OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE 28 
THE INHERITORS 35 
TEVYE WINS A FORTUNE 47 
A PAGE FROM THE SONG OF SONGS 66 
TWO DEAD METV 74 

THE CLOCK THAT STRUCK THIRTEEN 

HOME FOR PASSOVER 97 

THE ENCHANTED TAILOR 114 

A YOM KIPPUR SCANDAL 155 

IN HASTE 162 

ETERNAL LIFE 173 

HANNUKAH MONEY 196 

TIT FOR TAT 212 

MODERN CHILDREN 229 


89 


YOU MUSTN’T WEEP—IT’S YOM-TEV 249 
I’M LUCKY—I’M AN ORPHAN 263 
DREYFUS IN KASRILEVKA 269 
THE CONVOY 274 

THE FIDDLE 307 

THE DAY BEFORE YOM KIPPUR 324 
THREE LITTLE HEADS 333 
A COUNTRY PASSOVER 339 

THE LOTTERY TICKET 350 

THE MIRACLE OF HASHONO RABO 37V 

HODEL 383 

A DAUGHTER’S GRAVE 401 
CNARDS 410 
Glossary 426 



INTRODUCTION 


by Alfred Kazin 


The way to read Sholom Aleichem is to remember from the 
outset that he is writing about a people, a folk, the Yiddish¬ 
speaking Jews of Eastern Europe. There are a great many 
Jews and non-Jews who resent the idea that the Jews are a 
people, for they think that this requires all Jews to speak 
the same language and to live in the same territory. But the 
characters in this book already are a people. They are a peo¬ 
ple not merely because they speak the same language, Yid¬ 
dish, or because they live in the Pale of SetUement that the 
Czarist government kept Jews in. They are a people because 
they think of themselves as a people. And what is most im¬ 
portant, they are a people because they enjoy thinking of 

themselves as a people. 

This is the great thing about the Jews in this book. They 
enjoy being Jews, they enjoy the idea of belonging to the 
people who are called Jews—and “their” Sholom Aleichem, 
perhaps more than any other Jewish writer who has ever 
lived, writes about Jewishness as if it were a gift, a marvel, 
an unending theme of wonder and delight. He is one 
of those writers whose subject is an actual national character, 
a specific type—the Jew as embodied in the poor Jew of 
Eastern Europe. In a way he does remind us of Mark Twain, 
who was so entranced with a new character, the Western 
American, that he was always trying to weigh him, to de- 



Introduction 

scribe him, as if he, Mark Twain, had discovered a new 
chemical element. When Mark Twain writes of “the calm 
confidence of a Christian with four aces,” we know that the 
pleasure he gets in writing that is, in part, the satisfaction of 
knowing that no one but an American could have written 
that sentence. It is an artistic pleasure, not a chauvinistic 
affirmation or a defensive maneuver; it is the pleasure of 
presenting certain local traits, feelings, habits, jokes, even 
certain biological characteristics, as a physical substance, a liv¬ 
ing addition to the world of nature—something that you can 
smell and taste and enjoy. You find this kind of artistic sub¬ 
stance in Shakespeare’s presentation of a lower-class character 
like Pistol; in Dickens’ Cockneys, who walk off the streets of 
London, delighting us with their pleasure in being Lon¬ 
doners, in their physical relish of their identity as people 
of that place and time (and who are proud that they spring 
straight from the imagination of Charles Dickens). Ameri¬ 
cans, in their attempt to endow a new country with a specific 
national type, have contributed very largely to this art of na¬ 
tional character. But, generally, this kind of pleasure in one’s 
own national being is, I should say, more European than it is 
American. I have often noticed the difference in the greater 
pride with which Europeans tend to project their own lan¬ 
guage, as opposed to our more functional and careless use of 
English. I have seen it particularly in the Neapolitan dialect 
theater of Eduardo de Filippo, and in Italian movies, where 
a type will appear that instantly captivates the audience be¬ 
cause he is recognizable, a symbol of the country’s human 
wealth, a tangible re-creation of the life of ordinary experi¬ 
ence. 

It is this kind of European, seasoned, familiar pleasure in 
the national circle of one’s own people, that lies behind 
Sholom Aleichem’s stories. But what kind of enjoyment can 
these people derive from being Jews, since they are in¬ 
cessantly harassed by the Russian government, and are sur¬ 
rounded by peasants who are usually anti-Semitic and can 
easily be goaded, with the help of the usual encouragement 



ix 


Introduction 


from the government itself and a lot of vodka, into making 
pogroms? What is it, in short, that makes for enjoyment in 
these local terms? The answer is that one enjoys being a 
member of a people because one shares in the feast of their 
common experience. You share in something that is given 
to you instead of having to make every institution and every 
habit for yourself, out of nothing, in loneliness and with 
exertion. The secret of this enjoyment consists not so much 
in physical solidarity and “togetherness,” in the absence of 
loneliness, as in the fact that a deep part of your life is 
lived below the usual level of strain, of the struggle for 
values, of the pressing and harrowing need—so often felt in 
America—to define your values all over again in each situa¬ 
tion, where you may have even to insist on values themselves 
in the teeth of a brutish materialism. We enjoy things only 
when we can commit some part of our daily life to tradition, 
when we can act ceremonially, ritualistically, artistically, in¬ 
stead of having to decide in each case which act to perform 
and how to go about it and what we are likely to get out of 
it. What we enjoy is, in fact, nothing less than the uncon¬ 
scious wealth of humanity, which is its memory. 

This is the fabled strength of “the old country,” which 
deprived the Jews of Eastern Europe of every decency that 
we take for granted, but allowed them to feast unendingly on 
their own tradition—and even to enjoy, as an unconscious 
work of art, their projection of their fiercely cherished iden¬ 
tity. The very pen name, “Sholom Aleichem,” is an instance 
of this. (His real name was Solomon Rabinowitz; he was 
born near Kiev in 1859 and died in the Bronx in 1916.) 
“Sholom Aleichem” is the Hebrew greeting, “Peace Be Unto 
You,” that is exchanged between Jews. It is said with more 
lightness and playfulness than you would guess from the lit¬ 
eral translation. Its chief characteristic, as a greeting, is the 
evidence it gives of relatedness. Now Solomon Rabinowitz, 
who actually belonged to the prosperous and more “eman¬ 
cipated” middle class of Russian Jewry (he even married 
into its landed gentry), took this pen name precisely because 



Introduction 


x 


he found, in the phrase, an image of the sweet familiarity, 
the informality, the utter lack of side, that is associated with 
the Yiddish-speaking masses of Eastern Europe. A Yiddish 
writer who calls himself Mister Sholom Aleichem tells us 
by this that he has chosen cannily to picture himself as one 
of the people—and modestly to be a register or listening 
post for his people. Sholom Aleichem! The name’s as light as 
a feather, as “common” as daylight, as porous to life as good 
Yiddish talk: it is the very antithesis of the literary, the man¬ 
nered, the ornate. If you didn’t know anything else about 
Mister Sholom Aleichem (several of his characters address 
him so when they bring their stories to him) you should 
be able to guess, from the name, the role that he has chosen 
to piay in his own work. He is the passer-by, the informal 
correspondent, the post office into which Jews drop their 
communications to the world. All he does, you understand, 
is to write down stories people bring him. He invents 
nothing. And need one say—with that name, with that in¬ 
describably dear, puckish, wrinkled face of his—that you will 
never learn from him what he has invented, that he has all 
Yiddish stories in his head, that any one story people bring 
him will always be capped with another? 

In the world of Sholom Aleichem, nothing has to be made 
up, for the life of the Jews, to say nothing of the Jewish 
character, is an unending drama. Nor can it be said of any¬ 
thing that it’s never been seen or heard of before. The Jews 
have lived with each other for a very long time, and they know 
each other through and through—and this, often enough, is 
what they enjoy. Their history, alas, has too often been the 
same, and everything that you see in Kasrilevka (the little 
Jewish town which is all little Jewish towns) or Yehupetz 
(Kiev, the big city) can be matched from something in 
Mazeppa’s time, which is late seventeenth century, or Ha- 
man’s, who tried to kill all the Jews in Persia in the fifth 
century b.c. Nor, indeed, is anything ever said just once. 
Everything is real, everything is typical, and everything is 
repeated. 



xi 


Introduction 


You must understand, first, that the characters in this book 
possess almost nothing except the word—the Holy word, 
which is Hebrew, and the word of everyday life, which is 
Yiddish. They arc “little” people not in the sense that they 
are poor little victims, but in the sense that they are 
unarmed, defenseless, exiled, not in the world, not in their 
kind of world. All they have is the word. They talk as poor 
people always talk—because poor people live near each 
other, and so have a lot of opportunity to talk. They talk 
the way the European poor always talk—Cockneys or Nea¬ 
politans or Provencals: they talk from the belly; they roar, 
they bellow, they grunt, they scream. They imitate the actual 
sounds that life makes, and they are rough and blunt. But 
most of all, they are poor Jews talking, i.e., they find an 
irony in language itself. Their words strive after the reality, 
but can never adequately express the human situation. 

This sense that the letter strives after the spirit, but can 
never fully capture it—this seems to me the essence of the 
historic Jewish consciousness, with its devout and awestruck 
yet faithful obedience to some overmastering reality. We 
are all familiar enough with the Hebrew psalmist's despair 
that he can find the word, the deep, deep word still lacking 
to human speech, that will convey the bounty of God. But 
Yiddish, which is particularly the language of the exile, 
of the long Jewish wandering, is identified by these poor 
Jews with the contrast between the Jewish situation in the 
world and the large and inextinguishable hope of another 
world which they profess. They do not “despise” Yiddish 
because it is the tongue of everyday life, and one which they 
themselves call a vernacular; they love it; it is theirs. But by 
identifying it with their reduced situation, with their 
exile, with their isolation, they embody in it an historical 
moment, the present and its desolation, rather than the world 
of eternity which is mirrored in Hebrew. Yiddish is the 
poor Jew’s everyday clothes rather than his Sabbath garment. 
But in the Jewish consciousness it is precisely the life of 
everyday that is contrasted with the divine gift of the Sab- 



Introduction 


bath, and it is this awareness of what life is actually like 
(seen always against the everlasting history of this people 
and the eternal promise) that makes the very use of Yiddish 
an endless commentary on the world as found. 

And it is a commentary on the spirit of language itself. 
One of the things you get from Sholom Aleichem is this 
mockery of language, a mockery which—need I say it? car¬ 
ries a boundless pleasure in language and a sense of the posi¬ 
tive strength that goes with mighty talk. The mockery may 
indicate the inadequacy of words when describing the vast¬ 
ness and strangeness of Russia in which Yiddish-speaking 
Jews felt lost: “. . . They all began to tell each other stories 
about spirits and ghosts, incidents that had occurred right 
here in Zolodievka, in Kozodoievka, in Yampoli, in Pischi- 
Yaboda, in Haplapovitch, in Petchi-Hvost, and other places.” 
It conveys, over and over, a mild, loving, but positive irony 
toward the Creator. ‘‘How cleverly the Eternal One has cre¬ 
ated this little world of His, so that every living thing, from 
man to a simple cow, must earn its food. Nothing is free.” 
The mockery may indicate despair at reproducing a really 
odd face: ‘‘In appearance Shimmen-Eli was short and homely, 
with pins and needles sticking out all over him and bits of 
cotton batting clinging to his curly black hair. He had a 
short beard like a goat's, a flattened nose, a split lower lip 
and large black eyes that were always smiling. His walk 
was a little dance all his own and he was always humming to 
himself. His favorite saying was, ‘That’s life—but don’t 
worry.’ ” Sholom Aleichem leaves the rest to the imagination. 
Only the imagination can do justice to the rest. 

Or the mockery may, as in a familiarly shrewish tirade by 
a wife or mother-in-law, mean not only the opposite of what 
it seems to mean (i.e., it may actually hide affection, though 
no one but the husband-victim should be expected to know 
this), but, even more, it will be a commentary—to put it 
gently!—on the world which a woman cannot always act in, 
but which, with tongue and blazing eyes, she implacably 
judges. The husband is always in a direct line of fire, since 



mm m 

Xlll 


Introduction 


he is a ne’er-do-well, a shlemiel, a genius at bad luck, a 
shlimazl. But it is not the husband's failures alone that are 
scorned; it is the folly of the world itself—for daring to 
think of it as the world (i.e., a place where human beings 
can live). Thus Menachem-Mendel (“In Haste"), who tries 
his hand at everything in the big city and succeeds at noth¬ 
ing, and who, precisely because his ambition is exceeded by 
his innocence, illustrates the cruelty of the great world in 
which he naively tries to get a living. The particular joke 
just now is that he has become a professional matchmaker. 
Home for Passover, he sees, first off, his mother-in-law in the 
yard, who is engaged in furious housecleaning for Passover: 

When she saw me, she managed to control her joy. She 
kept right on with her work, muttering to herself: 

“Well, well! You mention the Messiah—and look who 
comes! Here he is, my bird of Paradise ... If he doesn’t 
spoil, he’ll find his way home. Goats run away, chickens get 
lost, but men always come back . . . The only place they 
don’t return from is the Other World. Now I know why the 
cat was washing herself yesterday, and the dog was eating 
entrails ... Oh, Sheine-Sheindel, daughter, come here! Wel¬ 
come your ornament, your jewel, your crown of gold and 
diamonds! Your holy of holies . . . Quick, take the garbage 
away!” 

At this point my wife runs out, frightened, and sees me. 

Her welcome is more direct. 

“Tfui!” she spat out. “You picked just the right time to 
come. All year long you roam around that dirty city, lying 
around in all the attics, engage in every idolatry—and here 
you come fluttering in on Passover Eve, when we’re busy 
cleaning up and there is not time to say a word to each 
other . . .” Etc. Etc. 

An irate man says of a stranger he doesn’t like: “. . . 
comes all the way from Zolodievka and fastens himself to us 
like a grease spot.” Sholom Aleichem says of Kasrilevka itself 



Introduction 

(the very embodiment of all little Jewish towns, the poor 
man’s town): “From a distance it looks—how shall I say 
it?—like a loaf of bread thickly studded with poppy seed.” 
He remarks, in passing, that “the real pride of Kasrilevka is 
her cemeteries.” The wonderful, the lovable Tevye, Tevye 
the dairyman, the poorest and most faithful and most touch¬ 
ing of all Sholom Aleichem’s poor Jews, remarks in passing: 

. . with God’s help I starved to death.” And when he 
comes through the woods from Boiberik to Kasrilevka, late, 
so very late, that he has to say his evening prayers on the 
spot, the horse runs off, and Tevye runs after his wagon— 
saying his prayers as he runs. Characteristically, he regrets 
that he cannot, now, enjoy saying his prayers. “A fine way 
to say Shmin-esra! And just my luck, at a moment when 
I was in the mood to pray with feeling, out of the depth of 
my heart, hoping it would lift my spirits.” 

In this world, the extreme is a matter of course—and yet, 
from a Jewish point of view, an understatement. For these 
people have much to think about, much to live with, much, 
much, to live through. In the lovely lyric story, “A Page from 
the Song of Songs,” which portrays the closeness to nature, 
to ordinary sensuous enjoyments, that these Jews so rarely 
experienced, the boy cries out, in the rapture of Passover, 
of spring: “What delights the Lord has provided for his Jew¬ 
ish children.” But Tevye the dairyman, who loves God with 
all his might, can still remember, as he runs after his horse, 
“chanting at the top of my voice, as if I were a cantor in 
a synagogue,” he can still remember to add private comments 
on his prayer. “ Thou sustainest the living with loving kind¬ 
ness (and sometimes with a little food) and keepest thy 
faith with them that sleep in the dust. (The dead are not the 
only ones who lie in the dust; Oh, how low we the living are 
laid, what hells we go through, and I don’t mean the rich 
people of Yehupetz who spend their summers at the 
datchas of Boiberik, eating and drinking and living off the 
fat of the land . . . Oh, Heavenly Father, why does this hap¬ 
pen to me?) . . .” And coming to the part of the evening 



XV 


Introduction 


prayer which asks, “Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed," 
he cannot help adding under his breath: “Send us the cure, 
we have the ailment already.” 

For Tevye and his people the word is not the beginning of 
things, the foundation of the world; it is a response to the 
overmastering reality—to the world and the everlasting 
creation, the eternal struggle and the inestimable privilege of 
being a Jew. 


ALFRED KAZ3N 




Selected Stories of Sholom Aleichera 




ON ACCOUNT OF A HAT 


“Did I hear you say absent-minded? Now, in our town, that 
is, in Kasrilevka, we’ve really got someone for you—do you 
hear what I say? His name is Sholem Shachnah, but we call 
him Sholem Shachnah Rattlebrain, and is he absent-minded, 
is this a distracted creature. Lord have mercy on us! The 
stories they tell about him, about this Sholem Shachnah 
bushels and baskets of stories—I tell you, whole crates full of 
stories and anecdotes! It’s too bad you’re in such a hurry on 
account of the Passover, because what I could tell you, Mr. 
Sholom Aleichem—do you hear what I say?—you could go 
on writing it down forever. But if you can spare a moment 
I’ll tell you a story about what happened to Sholem Shachnah 
on a Passover Eve—a story about a hat, a true story, I should 
live so, even if it does sound like someone made it up. 

These were the words of a Kasrilevka merchant, a dealer 
in stationery, that is to say, snips of paper. He smoothed out 
his beard, folded it down over his neck, and went on smok¬ 
ing his thin little cigarettes, one after the other. 

I must confess that this true story, which he related to me, 
does indeed sound like a concocted one, and for a long time 
I couldn’t make up my mind whether or not I should pass it 
on to you. But I thought it over and decided that if a 
respectable merchant and dignitary of Kasrilevka, who deals 



Sholom Aleichem 


4 


in stationery and is surely no litterateur —if he vouches for a 
story, it must be true. What would he be doing with fiction? 
Here it is in his own words. I had nothing to do with it. 

This Sholem Shachnah I’m telling you about, whom we call 
Sholem Shachnah Rattlebrain, is a real-estate broker—you 
hear what I say? He’s always with landowners, negotiating 
transactions. Transactions? Well, at least he hangs around 
the landowners. So what’s the point? I’ll tell you. Since he 
hangs around the landed gentry, naturally some of their man¬ 
ner has rubbed off on him, and he always has a mouth full 
of farms, homesteads, plots, acreage, soil, threshing machines, 
renovations, woods, timber, and other such terms having to 
do with estates. 

One day God took pity on Sholem Shachnah, and for the 
first time in his career as a real-estate broker—are you listen¬ 
ing?—he actually worked out a deal. That is to say, the work 
itself, as you can imagine, was done by others, and when the 
time came to collect the fee, the big rattler turned out to be 
not Sholem Shachnah Rattlebrain, but Drobkin, a Jew from 
Minsk province, a great big fearsome rattler, a real-estate 
broker from way back—he and his two brothers, also brokers 
and also big rattlers. So you can take my word for it, there 
was quite a to-do. A Jew has contrived and connived and has 
finally, with God’s help, managed to cut himself in—so what 
do they do but come along and cut him out! Where’s 
Justice? Sholem Shachnah wouldn’t stand for it—are you 
listening to me? He set up such a holler and an outcry— 
"‘Look what they’ve done to me!”—that at last they gave 
in to shut him up, and good riddance it was too. 

When he got his few cents Sholem Shachnah sent the 
greater part of it home to his wife, so she could pay off some 
debts, shoo the wolf from the door, fix up new outfits for 
the children, and make ready for the Passover holidays. And 
as for himself, he also needed a few things, and besides he 
had to buy presents for his family, as was the custom. 

Meanwhile the time flew by, and before he knew it, it 


5 


On Account of a Hat 


was almost Passover. So Sholem Shachnah—now listen to this 
—ran to the telegraph office and sent home a wire: Arriving 
home Passover without fail. It’s easy to say “arriving” and 
“without fail” at that. But you just try it! Just try riding out 
our way on the new train and see how fast you’ll arrive. Ah, 
what a pleasure! Did they do us a favor! I tell you, Mr. 
Sholom Aleichem, for a taste of Paradise such as this you’d 
gladly forsake your own grandchildren! You see how it 
is: until you get to Zolodievka there isn’t much you can do 
about it, so you just lean back and ride. But at Zolodievka 
the fun begins, because that’s where you have to change, to 
get onto the new train, which they did us such a favor by 
running out to Kasrilevka. But not so fast. First, there’s the 
little matter of several hours’ wait, exactly as announced in 
the schedule—provided, of course, that you don’t pull in 
after the Kasrilevka train has left. And at what time of night 
may you look forward to this treat? The very middle, thank 
you, when you’re dead tired and disgusted, without a friend 
in the world except sleep—and there’s not one single place 
in the whole station where you can lay your head, not one. 
When the wise men of Kasrilevka quote the passage from 
the Holy Book, “Tov shem meshemon tov” they know what 
they’re doing. I’ll translate it for you: We were better off 
without the train. 

To make a long story short, when our Sholem Shachnah 
arrived in Zolodievka with his carpetbag he was half dead; 
he had already spent two nights without sleep. But that was 
nothing at all to what was facing him—he still had to spend 
the whole night waiting in the station. What shall he do? 
Naturally he looked around for a place to sit down. Who¬ 
ever heard of such a thing? Nowhere. Nothing. No place to 
sit. The walls of the station were covered with soot, the floor 
was covered with spit. It was dark, it was terrible. He finally 
discovered one miserable spot on a bench where he had just 
room enough to squeeze in, and no more than that, because 
the bench was occupied by an official of some sort jn a uni¬ 
form full of buttons, who was lying there all stretched can 



Sholom Aleichem 


6 


and snoring away to beat the band. Who this Buttons was, 
whether he was coming or going, he hadn’t the vaguest idea, 
Sholem Shachnah, that is. But he could tell that Buttons was 
no dime-a-dozen official. This was plain by his cap, a military 
cap with a red band and a visor. He could have been an 
officer or a police official. Who knows? But surely he had 
drawn up to the station with a ringing of bells, had staggered 
in, full to the ears with meat and drink, laid himself out on 
the bench, as in his father’s vineyard, and worked up a glori¬ 
ous snoring. 

It’s not such a bad life to be a gentile, and an official one 
at that, with buttons, thinks he, Sholem Shachnah, that is, 
and he wonders, dare he sit next to this Buttons, or hadn t 
he better keep his distance? Nowadays you never can tell 
whom you’re sitting next to. If he’s no more than a plain 
inspector, that’s still all right. But what if he turns out to 
be a district inspector? Or a provincial commander? Or even 
higher than that? And supposing this is even Purishkevitch 
himself, the famous anti-Semite, may his name perish? Let 
someone else deal with him—Sholem Shachnah turns cold 
at the mere thought of falling into such a fellow’s hands. 
But then he says to himself—now listen to this—Buttons, he 
says, who the hell is Buttons? And who gives a hang for 
Purishkevitch? Don’t I pay my fare the same as Purishkev¬ 
itch? So why should he have all the comforts of life and I 
none? If Buttons is entitled to a delicious night’s sleep, then 
doesn’t he, Sholem Shachnah that is, at least have a nap com¬ 
ing? After all, he’s human too, and besides, he’s already gone 
two nights without a wink. And so he sits down, on a corner 
of the bench, and leans his head back, not, God forbid, to 
sleep, but just like that, to snooze. But all of a sudden he 
remembers—he’s supposed to be home for Passover, and to¬ 
morrow is Passover Eve! What if, God have mercy, he should 
fall asleep and miss his train? But that’s why he’s got a Jew¬ 
ish head on his shoulders—are you listening to me or not?— 
so he figures out the answer to that one too, Sholem 
Shachnah, that is, and goes looking for the porter, a certain 



7 


On Account of a Hat 


Yeremei, he knows him well, to make a deal with him. 
Whereas he, Sholem Shachnah, is already on his third sleepless 
night and is afraid, God forbid, that he may miss his train, 
therefore let him, Yeremei, that is, in God s name, be sure 
to wake him, Sholem Shachnah, because tomorrow night is 
a holiday, Passover. “Easter,” he says to him in Russian 
and lays a coin in Yeremei’s mitt. Easter, Yeremei, do 
you understand, goyisher kop? Our Easter. The peasant 
pockets the coin, no doubt about that, and promises to wake 
him at the first sign of the train—he can sleep soundly and 
put his mind at rest. So Sholem Shachnah sits down in his 
corner of the bench, gingerly, pressed up against the wall, 
with his carpetbag curled around him so that no one should 
steal it. Little by little he sinks back, makes himself comfort¬ 
able, and half shuts his eyes—no more than forty winks, you 
understand. But before long he’s got one foot propped up 
on the bench and then the other; he stretches out and drifts 
off to sleep. Sleep? I’ll say sleep, like God commanded us: 
with his head thrown back and his hat rolling away on the 
floor, Sholem Shachnah is snoring like an eight-day wonder. 
After all, a human being, up two nights in a row 

what would you have him do? 

He had a strange dream. He tells this himself, that is, 

Sholem Shachnah does. He dreamed that he was riding home 
for Passover—are you listening to me?—but not on the 
train, in a wagon, driven by a thievish peasant, Ivan Zlodi 
we call him. The horses were terribly slow, they barely 
dragged along. Sholem Shachnah was impatient, and he 
poked the peasant between the shoulders and cried, “May 
you only drop dead, Ivan darling! Hurry up, you lout! Pass- 
over is coming, our Jewish Easter!” Once he called out to 
him, twice, three times. The thief paid him no mind. But all 
of a sudden he whipped his horses to a gallop and they went 
whirling away, up hill and down, like demons. Sholem Shach¬ 
nah lost his hat. Another minute of this and he would have 
lost God knows what. “Whoa, there, Ivan old boy! Where’s 
the fire? Not so fast!” cried Sholem Shachnah. He covered 



Sholom Aleicbem 

' his head with his hands—he was worried, you see, over his 
lost hat. How can he drive into town bareheaded? But for 
all the good it did him, he could have been hollering at a 
post. Ivan the Thief was racing the horses as if forty devils 
were after him. All of a sudden—tppprrru!—they came to a 
dead stop, right in the middle of the field—you hear me? 
—a dead stop. What’s the matter? Nothing. “Get up,” said 
Ivan, “time to get up.” 

Time? What time? Sholem Shachnah is all confused. He 
wakes up, rubs his eyes, and is all set to step out of the 
wagon when he realizes he has lost his hat. Is he dreaming or 
not? And what’s he doing here? Sholem Shachnah finally 
comes to his senses and recognizes the peasant—this isn’t 
Ivan Zlodi at all but Yeremei the porter. So he concludes 
that he isn’t on the high road after all, but in the station at 
Zolodievka, on the way home for Passover, and that if he 
means to get there he’d better run to the window for a ticket, 
but fast. Now what? No hat. The carpetbag is right 
where he left it, but his hat? He pokes around under the 
bench, reaching all over, until he comes up with a hat not 
his own, to be sure, but the official’s, with the red band and 
the visor. But Sholem Shachnah has no time for details 
and he rushes off to buy a ticket. The ticket window is 
jammed, everybody and his cousins are crowding in. Sholem 
Shachnah thinks he won’t get to the window in time, perish 
the thought, and he starts pushing forward, carpetbag and 
all. The people see the red band and the visor and they make 
way for him. “Where to, Your Excellency?” asks the ticket 
agent. What’s this Excellency, all of a sudden? wonders Sholem 
Shachnah, and he rather resents it. Some joke, a gentile poking 
fun at a Jew. All the same he says, Sholem Shachnah, that 
is, “Kasrilevka.” “Which class. Your Excellency?” The ticket 
agent is looking straight at the red band and the visor. Sholem 
Shachnah is angrier than ever. I’ll give him an Excellency, so 
he’ll know how to make fun of a poor Jew! But then he thinks, 
Oh, well, we Jews are in Diaspora—do you hear what I say?— 
let it pass. And he asks for a ticket third class. “Which class?” 



9 


On Account of a Hat 


The agent blinks at him, very much surprised. This time 
Sholem Shachnah gets good and sore and he really tells him 
off. “Third!” says he. All right, thinks the agent, third is third. 

In short, Sholem Shachnah buys his ticket, takes up his 
carpetbag, runs out onto the platform, plunges into the crowd 
of Jews and gentiles, no comparison intended, and goes look¬ 
ing for the third-class carriage. Again the red band and the 
visor work like a charm, everyone makes way for the official. 
Sholem Shachnah is wondering. What goes on here? But 
he runs along the platform till he meets a conductor carrying 
a lantern. “Is this third class?” asks Sholem Shachnah, put¬ 
ting one foot on the stairs and shoving his bag into the door 
of the compartment. “Yes, Your Excellency,” says the con¬ 
ductor, but he holds him back. “If you please, sir, it’s packed 
full, as tight as your fist. You couldn’t squeeze a needle into 
that crowd.” And he takes Sholem Shachnah’s carpetbag 
you hear what I’m saying?—and sings out, “Right this way. 
Your Excellency, I’ll find you a seat.” “What the devil 
cries Sholem Shachnah. “Your Excellency and Your Excel¬ 
lency!” But he hasn’t much time for the fine points; he s wor¬ 
ried about his carpetbag. He’s afraid, you see, that with all 
these Excellencies he’ll be swindled out of his belongings. 
So he runs after the conductor with the lantern, who leads 
him into a second-class carriage. This is also packed to the 
rafters, no room even to yawn in there. “This way please. 
Your Excellency!” And again the conductor grabs the bag 
and Sholem Shachnah lights out after him. “Where in blazes 
is he taking me?” Sholem Shachnah is racking his brains over 
this Excellency business, but meanwhile he keeps his eye on 
the main thing—the carpetbag. They enter the first-class car¬ 
riage the conductor sets down the bag, salutes, and backs 
away, bowing. Sholem Shachnah bows right back. And there 

he is, alone at last. , 

Left alone in the carriage, Sholem Shachnah looks around 

to get his bearings—you hear what I say? He has no idea 

why all these honors have suddenly been heaped on him— 

first class, salutes, Your Excellency. Can it be on account 



Sholom Aleichem 


10 


of the real-estate deal he just closed? That’s it! But wait a 
minute. If his own people, Jews, that is, honored him for 
this, it would be understandable. But gentiles! The conduc¬ 
tor! The ticket agent! What’s it to them? Maybe he’s dream¬ 
ing. Sholem Shachnah rubs his forehead, and while passing 
down the corridor glances into the mirror on the wall. It 

nearly knocks him over! He sees not himself but the 

official with the red band. That’s who it is! “All my bad 

dreams on Yeremei’s head and on his hands and feet, that 

lug! Twenty times I tell him to wake me and I even give 
him a tip, and what does he do, that dumb ox, may he catch 
cholera in his face, but wake the official instead! And me 
he leaves asleep on the bench! Tough luck, Sholem Shachnah 
old boy, but this year you’ll spend Passover in Zolodievka, 
not at home.” 

Now get a load of this. Sholem Shachnah scoops up his 
carpetbag and rushes off once more, right back to the station 
where he is sleeping on the bench. He’s going to wake him¬ 
self up before the locomotive, God forbid, lets out a blast 
and blasts his Passover to pieces. And so it was. No sooner 
had Sholem Shachnah leaped out of the carriage with his 
carpetbag than the locomotive did let go with a blast—do 
you hear me?—one followed by another, and then, good 
night! 

The paper dealer smiled as he lit a fresh cigarette, thin as 
a straw. “And would you like to hear the rest of the story? 
The rest isn’t so nice. On account of being such a rattle¬ 
brain, our dizzy Sholem Shachnah had a miserable Passover, 
spending both Seders among strangers in the house of a Jew 
in Zolodievka. But this was nothing—listen to what hap¬ 
pened afterward. First of all, he has a wife, Sholem Shachnah, 
that is, and his wife—how shall I describe her to you? / have 
a wife, you have a wife, we all have wives, we’ve had a taste 
of Paradise, we know what it means to be married. All I can 
6ay about Sholem Shachnah’s wife is that she’s A Number 
One. And did she give him a royal welcome! Did she lay 



11 


On Account of a Hat 


into him! Mind you, she didn't complain about his spend¬ 
ing the holiday away from home, and she said nothing about 
the red band and the visor. She let that stand or the time 
beino- she'd take it up with him later. The only thing she 
complained about was—the telegram! And not so much 
the telegram—you hear what 1 say?—as the one short phrase, 
without fail. What possessed him to put that into the wire 
Arriving home Passover without fail. Was he trying o ma c 
the telegraph company rich? And besides, how dare a hu¬ 
man being say ‘without fail' in the first place? It did him no 
good to answer and explain. She buried him alive. Oh. well 
that’s what wives are for. And not that s e was a o 
wrong—after all, she had been waiting so anxiously. But this 
was nothing compared with what he caught from the town, 
Kasrilevka, that is. Even before he returned the whole town 
—you hear what I say?—knew all about Yeremei and h 
official and the red band and the visor and the conductor s 
Your Excellency—the whole show. He himself Shotem 
Shachnah that is, denied everything and swore up and down 
fhat the Kasrilevka smart-alecks had invented the entire story 
for lack of anything better to do. It was all very simple the 
reason he came home late, after the holidays "as that he h 
made a special trip to inspect a wooded estate. Woods. Es 
tate 9 Not a chance—no one bought that! They Panted 
out in the streets and held their sides, laughing. And every- 

body asked him, ‘How does it feel, Reb Sh °' cm ^ Chn ^ 
to wear a cap with a red band and a visor? And tell us said 

others, ‘what's it like to travel first class?' As for the chddre 
this was made to order for them—you hear what I say. 
Wherever he went they trooped after him, shouting, Your 
Excellency! Your excellent Excellency! Your most excellent 

EX ‘Wou thLk it's so easy to put one over on Kasrilevka?- 



THE PAIR 


It was a damp and dreary spring night. The world slept in 
darkness and in silence. It was a night for weird dreams. 

The dreams that troubled our hero were violent. All night 
long his mind was disturbed by chickens, geese, and ducks. 
And in his dream one rooster figured with special promi¬ 
nence, a red bird, young and insolent, who refused to fade 
away. Persistently he remained in the foreground and pro- 
vokingly chanted a nonsensical ditty: 

Cockadoodledo-o-o-o . . . 

They will catch you too-oo; 

They will beat you, 

They will eat you. 

They will slit your throat too-oo-oo. 

And each time the red rooster concluded his chant, all the 
chickens, geese, and ducks would make an unbearable noise. 

Our hero was preparing to teach this audacious young 
rooster a lesson when suddenly there was heard a stamping 
of feet. A light appeared. Wild unfamiliar voices shouted in 
unearthly tones, “Not this one—the other—grab him—don’t 
let him get away—tie him—careful with his legs, don’t break 

them—ready?—get a move on—into the wagon with 
him—” 



13 


The Pair 


A pair of powerful hands seized our hero, bound him, 
twisted his legs, and thrust him into a roomy wagon. In the 
dark he could discern another creature, apparently female, 
crouching in the corner and trembling. Two people were 
puttering about the wagon. One was a savage-looking in¬ 
dividual with head bare, the other equally savage but with 
his head covered by a fur cap. The bareheaded one carefully 
examined the wagon and the horses. The one with the fur 
cap leaped savagely onto the wagon and landed on the feet 
of the prisoners with such force that their heads reeled. 

“Be careful now that they don’t get untied and escape. 

Hear me?” 

The admonition came from the bareheaded one, but the 
other did not trouble to answer. He merely lashed the horses 

and they were off. 


That they survived the night was itself a miracle. They had 
no idea where they were, to whom they were being taken, or 

why. , , 

Because of the darkness they could not see each other very 

well. Only after dawn could they make each other out and 

converse quietly. 

“Good morning, madam.” 

“Good morning.” 

“I could swear you're one of our kind ” 

“There’s no need to swear. You’ll be believed without an 

oath.” ,, 

“I recognized you at once, by your beads. 

“That shows you have a good eye.” 

Some minutes passed and he spoke again. “How do you 
feel?” 

“I could wish my feelings on my worst enemies.” 

Another pause, and then ^ he whispered into her ear, “1 

want to ask you something.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


14 


“Yes.” 

“What are you accused of?” 

“The same as you.” 

“I mean, what have you done wrong?” 

“The same as you.” 

“It strikes me that you’re annoyed about something.” 

“Annoyed! The boor! He plants himself on my feet and 
then complains that I’m annoyed.” 

“What are you saying? I, on your feet?” 

“Who else?” 

“It’s he, that savage with the fur cap, may the devil take 
him!” 

“Really? And I thought it was you. Forgive me if I hurt 
your feelings.” 

They could say no more, for the man in the fur cap roused 
himself and began whipping the horse furiously. The 
wagon leaped forward. The two prisoners listened to the 
quivering of their vitals. Suddenly the wagon came to a halt, 
and they beheld something they had never seen before. 


3 

For the first time in their lives they saw a tremendous gath¬ 
ering of horses, cows, calves, pigs, and people. There were 
wagons with hoods raised, filled with goods, loaves of bread, 
and living creatures—chickens, geese, and ducks piled on top 
of one another. To one side a bound pig lay on a wagon, and 
his screeches of protest were deafening, yet no one paid any 
attention to him. Everyone was excited, everyone talked at 
once, everyone bustled about—it was a regular fair. 

It was to this place that the fur-capped savage brought 
them. He lowered himself from the wagon and began putter¬ 
ing around with his prisoners. They awoke, strangely excited. 
What would be done with them now? Would they be 
untied? Or would he free them and let them go at will? 

But their joy was short-lived. He merely moved them 


15 


The Pair 


somewhat higher on the wagon, probably so that they cou d 
be seen better. A terrible humiliation! And yet one could 
think of it in another way. Perhaps it would be better i 
everyone could see them. Let the world see! Some kind soul 
might take their part and demand an explanation from the 

savage: Why? For what? 

Thus the innocent prisoners reasoned, and it seemed that 
they reasoned well, for a kind soul did appear, a thickset 
woman in a Turkish shawl. She approached, felt around in 
the wagon, and asked the fur cap, “Your pair?” 

“Any of your business?” 

“How much do you want? 

“Where will you get so much money?” 

“If I had no money would I talk to a lout like you. 

Such was the conversation between the Turkish shawl and 
the fur cap. They haggled for a long time. The savage in he 
fur cap remained cold and indifferent. The woman in the 
Turkish shawl grew excited. She turned away as if to leave 
but came back at once and the bargaining resumed. This 
went on so long that the fur cap grew angry and the two 
started cursing each other. Meanwhile the prisoners exchanged 

a few words. 

“Do you hear, madam?” 

“Of course. Why shouldn t I? 

“Is it likely we are about to be ransomed. 

“It certainly looks that way. 9 „ 

“Then why does she bargain over us as if we were geese? 

“The humiliation!” 

“Well, let them quarrel, just as long as we go free. 

The 1 Lord beprahed! The Turkish shawl dipped her hand 

into her pocket and took out the money. 

“You won’t let the price down?” 

“Perhaps—all right, all right, just look at him rage. Here’s 

y0 And’the ey pair passed from the savage in the fur cap to the 


Sholom Aleiehem 

fat woman in the Turkish shawl—that is, from one bondage 
to another. 


4 

At the new place the prisoners were untied. Joyfully they 
felt the ground beneath them. They stretched and paced back 
and forth to make sure their feet still served them. In their 
happiness, however, they neglected to notice they were still 
far from free. Indeed, it took them a while to realize that 
they remained prisoners. They found themselves in a dark 
corner, with a warm oven on one side, a cold wall on the 
other, and an overturned ladder barring the exit. Food and 
drink had been left for them, and they were now alone, at 
God’s mercy, so to speak. After examining their new dwell¬ 
ing they stood eying each other for a long time, as 
strangers will, and then they turned each to his own corner, 
where each surrendered to his own thoughts. 

But they were not allowed to think for long. The door of 
their prison opened, and a crowd of women headed by the 
Turkish shawl came in. The Turkish shawl led the women 
to the prisoners, pointed at them, and, her face aglow, asked, 
“How do you like these two?’’ 

“How much did you pay for them?” 

“Guess.” 

All of them guessed and all were wrong. When the Turk¬ 
ish shawl named the price they clapped their hands in 
amazement. 

Envy crept into their faces. Their cheeks grew flushed, 
their eyes gleamed, but from their mouths flowed a stream of 
well wishing. 

“Use them in good health! May you enjoy them! May you 
be as lucky all year! Together with your husband and chil¬ 
dren!” 

“Amen! The same to you. The same to you.” 

The women left, and a moment later the Turkish shawl 


17 


The 


returned, leading in tow a man, a strange creature whose 
face was matted with red hair. Her face beamed with pride 
as she led him up to the prisoners. 

“Now, you are a man of understanding, what do you think 
of this pair?” 

The hairy person stared wildly. “I, an expert? What do I 
know of such things?” 

“You’re a scholar, and where there is learning there must 
be wisdom. Shouldn’t God grant us a kosher Passover? Isn’t 
it all for the sake of His precious name?” 

The hairy person passed his hand over his beard, gazed 
heavenward, and intoned piously, “May the Almighty grant 
a kosher Passover to all Jews!” 

The Turkish shawl and the hairy man departed, leaving 
the pair alone. For a moment they stood speechless, still 
wary of each other. Then she uttered a strange cry that was a 
cross between a cough and a scream. 

He turned toward her. “What ails you, madam?” 

“Nothing. I was thinking of home.” 

“Nonsense. You must forget that. We’d do better to get 
our bearings and consider what to do.” 

“Get our bearings? It’s clear enough. We’re in trouble, 
great trouble.” 

“For instance?” 

“Don’t you see we’ve been sold to savages just as one sells 
domestic beasts?” 

“What will they do to us?” 

“Plenty. When I was still a little bit of a thing I heard a 
lot of stories about what these savages do to those of our 
kind who fall into their hands.” 

“Nonsense! You mustn’t believe in fairy tales.” 

“These aren’t fairy tales. I heard it from my own sister. 
She said they are worse than wild beasts. When one of us is 
caught by a beast he is devoured, and that’s all there is to it, 
but if—” 

“There, there, my friend, it seems to me that you take toe 
pessimistic a view of the world.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


18 


“Too which?” 

“Too pessimistic.” 

“What does that mean, pessimistic?” 

“It means, well, that you look through dark glasses.” 

“I don’t wear glasses.” 

“Ha-ha.” 

“Why do you laugh?” 

“Madam, you are a—” 

“A what?” 

He wanted to tell her, but the door suddenly opened 
and— 

Better read on. 


5 

The door opened wide, and a mob of small fry charged in 
like a whirlwind. Their cheeks flushed and their black eyes 
eager, they dashed toward the oven. 

“Where are they? Where? Here they are, right here. 
Yankel! Berel! Velvel! Elie! Getzel! Quick! Over here!” 

Only now did the pair discover what hell really meant: 
torment, suffering, endless humiliation. The small fry fell 
upon them like savages in the jungle. They skipped around 
them, examining them from all sides and loudly ridiculing 
them. 

“Yosel, just look at that nose!” 

“A schnozzle, Berel, a real schnozzola.” 

“Velvel! Pull his nose.” 

“No, by the mouth, Elie, like this!” 

“Pull harder, Getzel! Make him holler!” 

“You’re all crazy. They holler only when you whistle at 
them. They can’t stand whistling. Want to see? I’ll whistle: 
Pheeeeeeee.” 

Ruffled, the prisoners blushed, lowered their heads, and 
exclaimed in unison, Haider! Haider! Haider! 



19 


The Pair 


The small fry picked it up and savagely mocked them. 
“Hold him! Hold her! Hold ’em.” 

Further enraged, the prisoners shouted louder. The young¬ 
sters were delighted. Convulsed with laughter, they mocked 
still louder. “Hold him! Hold her! Hold ’em!” 

This competition resulted in such a racket that the Turkish 
shawl, God bless her, came charging in, grabbed the small 
fry, and tossed them out one by one, giving each a few sound 
slaps. This procedure she concluded with an all-round 
curse. “May a stroke descend on you, O Lord of the World, a 
fire and a plague and a cholera. May it seize you and shake 
you one by one, together with all the apostates, dear God, 
and may not one of you remain to see the Passover, dear 
merciful God.” 

Once rid of this torment, the prisoners did not regain their 
composure for some time. The savage outcries, the whis¬ 
tling, the laughter of the little barbarians rang in their ears. 
Later our hero came gradually to realize that it was pointless 
to continue grieving on an empty stomach, and he slowly 
approached the food. 

“Madam,” he said to his companion, “how long will you 
keep worrying? It’s time to eat. The heavens haven’t caved in, 
believe me, and we haven’t had a bite all day.” 

“Eat well. I don’t care for any.” 

“Why not? Are you fasting?” 

“No. It’s just that I don’t care for any.” 

“Perhaps you want to teach them a lesson? Go on a hun¬ 
ger strike? You’ll only succeed in doing yourself harm 
—that’s all the good it will do.” 

“I don’t see how one can possibly eat anything. It just 
won’t go down.” 

“It’ll go down, it’ll go down. The first bite acts like 
a drill.” 

“A what?” 

“A drill.” 

“You do use such strange words.” 

“Ha-ha!” 



Sholom Aleichem 


20 


“Laughing again? What’s the occasion?” 

“I remembered the small fry.” 

“That’s no laughing matter.” 

“What do you want me to do? Cry?” 

“Why didn’t you laugh when they were here?” 

“What did I do?” 

“It seemed to me you screamed.” 

“I screamed? I?” 

“Who else? Maybe I did?” 

“You were the first to start crying holder, holder, holder ” 
“Excuse me, but it was you who first cried holder, holder ” 
“So what is there to be ashamed of if I was the first?” 
“And why should I feel ashamed if I was the first?” 

“If there is nothing to be ashamed of, why have you low¬ 
ered your nose?” 

“I lowered my nose?” 

“Who else?” 

“Oh, it’s so easy to notice someone else’s nose!” 

It was a pity that this interesting conversation could not 
be continued, but they were interrupted by the Turkish 
shawl, the mistress of their prison—as will be related in the 
next chapter. 


6 

The Turkish shawl, as it turned out, was not their only mis¬ 
tress. They were fated to make the acquaintance of still an¬ 
other strange creature, a girl with a greenish complexion and 
a red kerchief. The two entered with arms full of good 
things: a bowl of rice mixed with beans and peas, a plate of 
boiled potatoes, chopped eggs, and an apronful of sliced ap¬ 
ples and nuts. 

As soon as they came in the greenish maid with the red 
kerchief pointed to the pair and addressed the Turkish shawl. 
“Look, they haven’t even touched the food.” 


21 


The Pair 


“Let’s feed them now. I’ll hold them and you put it in 
their mouths. Well? Why are you standing there like a 
dummy, with your teeth hanging out?” 

“Why do they scream so when they look at me?” 

“Silly girl! Take off that kerchief—they can’t stand red.” 

“May all my troubles descend on their heads!” 

“On your own head, silly—you come first. Why don’t you 
put some rice and beans into his mouth?” 

“Mistress dear, may you live long! I don’t like the way he 
stares. Be careful that he shouldn’t, God forbid, choke.” 

“You choke—you come first! All of a sudden she talks of 
choking, as if it were the first time I’ve done this. Stuff it 
down his throat—this way! I’ve been a housekeeper for 
twenty-one years, thank God. Now put a piece of apple and 
a nut in his mouth. More, more, don’t be stingy!” 

“I begrudge him? Why should I? It isn’t mine. It’s simply 
a pity, the way he suffers!” 

“What do you say to this girl! A pity, she says. Am I do¬ 
ing him any harm? I’m only feeding him. And for whose 
sake? For the sake of God! For the sake of the holy Pass- 
over! The Almighty help me, I have fattened more than one 
pair for Passover. Let’s have another nut and make an end 
of it. He’s had enough for now. Now her. Begin with rice 
and beans.” 

“Good health to you, mistress, but how can you tell which 
is he and which is she?” 

“May all my evil dreams descend on your head! She’s 
asked to do one thing and her mind is the devil knows 
where! Wait till you get married, silly girl, and become a 
housekeeper, then you’ll ask. Meantime do as you are told. 
More, more, don’t be stingy! It’s for the sake of nobody, ex¬ 
cept His Precious Name. For Passover! For Passover!” 

Finished with their task, the women went off and the tor¬ 
tured prisoners remained alone. They staggered into a cor¬ 
ner, rested their mournful heads upon each other, and sur¬ 
rendered themselves to thoughts of sadness, such as come 
very rarely, perhaps only a few minutes before death. 



Sholom Aleichem 


7 

Nothing begets friendship so readily as trouble. The two un¬ 
fortunate prisoners are the best proof of this. During the 
brief term of their imprisonment they became as one, they 
began to understand each other at a mere hint, they were no 
longer bashful before each other, and they gave up address¬ 
ing each other with the formal “you.” They became, indeed, 
like one soul. She would address him as “My dear,” and he 
would counter with “My soul.” 

Whenever the Turkish shawl and the red kerchief came 
with the food they could not admire the pair enough. 

“What do you say to my pair?” 

“A delight.” 

“Just feel them. Now what do you say? Some flesh, eh? 
Now shouldn’t God help me because of the pair I fattened 
for Passover?” 

When their work was done the wild women left, and the 
couple pondered the meaning of the Turkish shawl’s remarks 
that she “fattens them for Passover” and that God should 
help her. Why should He? They thought hard and discussed 
the matter. 

“Dearest, what is Passover?” 

“Passover, my soul, is a sort of holiday among them, a 
holiday of freedom, of liberation.” 

“What does that mean—liberation?” 

“Let me explain it to you. They consider it a great good 
deed to catch one of our kind and fatten him until this holi¬ 
day Passover comes around, and then they let him free. Now 
do you understand?” 

“Is it long till this Passover?” 

“According to what I overheard the Turkish shawl say, it 
shouldn’t be more than about three days.” 

“Three days!” 

“What scared you so, you silly? The three days will pass 

like a dream, and when the dear Passover comes, thev will 

’ * 


23 


The Pair 


open the doors for us and, ‘Out you go, back where you 
came from.’ Will we make tracks!” 

‘‘Dearest, you say such wonderful things. If only it were 
as you say, but I am afraid of one thing—” 

“Sweetheart, you are always afraid.” 

“My dear, you don’t know these savages.” 

“And where did you learn about them?” 

“I heard plenty about them, dearest; when still at home I 
heard tell such stories about them! My sister told me she 
saw it herself.” 

“Again your sister’s stories? Forget them.” 

“I would gladly forget them, but I can’t. I can’t get them 
out of my head by day or out of my dreams by night.” 

“And what are these stories that bother you day and 
night?” 

“Darling, you won’t laugh at me?” 

“Why should I laugh?” 

“Because you are like that. Whenever I tell you something 
you laugh and call me a silly goose or a foolish turkey or 
some other name.” 

“I promise not to laugh. Now tell me what you heard 
from your sister.” 

“My sister told me that people are worse than beasts. 
When a wild beast catches one of us it devours him and 
that’s all, but when people catch one of us they imprison 
him and feed him well until he gets fat.” 

“And then?” 

“And then they slaughter him and skin him and cut him 
to pieces and sprinkle salt on him and soak him.” 

“And then?” 

“And then they make a fire and fry him in his own fat 
and eat him, meat, bones, and everything.” 

“Fairy tales, nothing to it, a cow flew over the moon. And 
you, you silly, you believe all this? Ha-ha-ha!” 

“Well? What did I say? Didn’t I say you’d laugh at me?” 

“What else did you expect me to do, when you don’t un¬ 
derstand anything at all? It seems to me you must have 



Sholom Aleichem 


heard a hundred times that the Turkish shawl said she was 
feeding us for the sake of no one but God.” 

“So what of it?” 

“Just this, darling, that you are a silly goose.” 

“That is your nature! Right away you become insulting.” 

“Who do you mean by ‘you’?” 

“I mean all of you men!” 

“All men? I am curious to know how many men you have 
known.” 

“I know only one, and that’s quite enough for me.” 

“Oh no, you said ‘men,’ and that means you knew others 
besides me.” 

“What will you think of next?” 

“Now you are angry again. Come here, I want to whisper 
something to you.” 

This loving scene was suddenly interrupted by the gang of 
small fry outside the window. They were not permitted in¬ 
side, so they came each day to the window, and there they 
made strange gestures, stuck out their tongues, and shouted 
holder, holder, holder. The two would naturally respond, not 
as angrily as they had the first time, but more in the way of a 
greeting. 

There is nothing in the world to which God’s creatures 
can’t become accustomed. Our prisoners had grown so used 
to their troubles that they now thought things were as they 
should be, just like the proverbial worm that has made its 
home in horseradish and thinks it sweet. 


8 

There came a foggy morning. Inside it was still dark. The 
pair was immersed in deep sleep. They dreamed of their old 
home—a broad, unfenced out-of-doors, a blue sky, green 
grass, a shining brook, a mill that turned around, made noise, 
and splashed water. Ducks and geese splashed near the bank. 
Hens scratched, roosters crowed, birds flew about. What a 


25 


The Pair 


beautiful world God had made for them. For them? Of 
course. For whom else were the tall, broad-branched trees 
under which one could stroll? For whom else was the mill 
where their entire family fed without letting anyone else 
near? For whom the round light in the sky that dipped into 
the river each evening? What wouldn’t they give now for 
just one more look at the beautiful warm sun! at the big, 
free, light out-of-doors! at the mill and everything near it! 

In the very midst of these sweet dreams they were seized 
and carried out. The fresh air of the foggy morning hit them 
full force. Another instant and they would take off and fly 
away over roofs and gardens and forests to where their home 
had been. There they would meet their own kind. “Wel¬ 
come home, where have you been?” “Among wild people. 
“What did they do with you?” “They fed us for Passover.” 
“What is Passover?” “It’s a sort of holiday among people, a 
fine, dear holiday of freedom and liberation.” 

This is how they dreamed as they were taken to a narrow, 
dank alley where they were dropped in the mud. The wall 
was spattered with blood and many bound fowl lay on the 
ground in pairs and even in threes. Alongside stood young 
women and girls chatting and giggling. The pair looked 
about. Why had they been brought there? What were all the 
bound fowl doing there? What were the women and girls 
giggling about? And what was the meaning of the blood¬ 
stained wall? Was this the dear, good holiday of Passover? 
And what about freedom? And liberation? 

Thus did the pair reason as they examined the bound fowl 
that lay quietly without asking any questions, as if this were 
the natural order of events. Only one loud-mouthed hen did 
not rest. Straining with all her strength, she flapped her 
wings in the mud and raved insanely. “Let me go! Let me 
go! I don’t want to lie here! I want to run! Let me go»! 

“Cockadoodledooo,” a red rooster bound to two hens re¬ 
sponded. “What do you say to this smarty? She doesn’t want 
to lie here! She wants to go, she wants to run. Ha-ha! 

Our hero raised his head, carefully examined the insolent 



Sholom Aleichem 


26 


red rooster, and felt the blood rushing to his head. He could 
have sworn that he knew the fellow; he had seen him some¬ 
where, had heard him before, but where? He couldn’t re¬ 
member. Yet wasn’t there something hauntingly familiar 
about him? In heaven’s name, where had he seen him? He 
raised his head a little higher, and the rooster noticed him 
and intoned in his high soprano: 

Cockadoodledooo . . . 

You were led 
A nd you were fed, 

Now you're tied. 

Soon you'll be fried — 

The red poet had no chance to finish. Someone’s hand 
grabbed him with such force and so unexpectedly that he 
suddenly lost his voice. 

The one who grabbed the rooster was an uncouth fellow 
with sleepy eyes, tall, thin, with long earlocks, his sleeves 
rolled up and his coat tails tucked in. In his hand he held a 
black shiny knife. Without delay he drew the rooster to him¬ 
self, pulled up his head, looked briefly into his eyes, plucked 
three small feathers from his neck, and, fit , he passed the 
knife over his throat and tossed him back into the mud. For 
a moment the rooster lay motionless, as if stunned, then he 
got up and started running and turning his head back and 
forth as if looking for someone, or as if he had lost some¬ 
thing. Our hero looked at the rooster and recognized him; it 
was the same one he had seen in his dream, and he recalled 
the song the rooster had sung. Now he could not say a word 
to his beloved, who lay close to him, trembling in all her 
limbs. 

Meanwhile the savage with the shining knife proceeded 
with his work, unconcerned, like a true executioner. One 
after another the fowl flew from his hands, each first being 
tickled on the throat with the knife before being tossed into 
the mud. Some stretched out their legs, trembled, and kicked 
as they lost blood. Others flapped their wings. And every 



27 


The Pair 


minute more victims joined them with cut throats. The 
women and girls observed all this yet did not seem to mind. 
On the contrary, some of them seized upon the still living 
fowl and started plucking their feathers, meantime chatting 
and joking and giggling as if it were water that flowed in¬ 
stead of the blood of living creatures. Where were their 
eyes? Where were their ears? And their hearts? And their 
sense of justice? And their God? 

Our two bound prisoners watched the terrible scene, the 
horrible carnage at daybreak. Could it be that they too had 
been brought here for the same purpose as the chickens, 
ducks, and geese? Could it be that aristocrats, who hailed 
from among the Indians, would share this terrible end with 
ordinary beings? Was it really true, what they had been told 
about these savages? And the prophecy of the red rooster, 
was that also true? 

They began to understand the cold, bare truth and to com 
prehend everything they had seen and heard. One thing only 
they could not fathom. Why had the Turkish shawl boasted 
that God would reward her for fattening such a pair for 
Passover? Was that w'hat their God wanted? 

A few minutes later our loving pair, the prisoners, lay ora 
the ground. Their still warm throats rested on each other, 
and from a distance it might have seemed they were asleep 
and dreaming beautiful dreams. 



THE TOWN OF THE 
EITTEE PEOPEE 


The town of the little people into which I shall now take 
you, dear reader, is exactly in the middle of that blessed Pale 
into which Jews have been packed as closely as herring in a 
barrel and told to increase and multiply. The name of the 
town is Kasrilevka. How did this name originate? I’ll tell 
you: 

Among us Jews poverty has many faces and many aspects. 
A poor man is an unlucky man, he is a pauper, a beggar, a 
schnorrer , a starveling, a tramp, or a plain failure. A different 
tone is used in speaking of each one, but all these names ex¬ 
press human wretchedness. However, there is still another 
name— kasril, or kasrilik. That name is spoken in a different 
tone altogether, almost a bragging tone. For instance, “Oh, 
am I ever a kasrilik!” A kasrilik is not just an ordinary 
pauper, a failure in life. On the contrary, he is a man who 
has not allowed poverty to degrade him. He laughs at it. He 
is poor, but cheerful. 

Stuck away in a comer of the world, isolated from the sur¬ 
rounding country, the town stands, orphaned, dreaming, be¬ 
witched, immersed in itself and remote from the noise and 
bustle, the confusion and tumult and greed, which men have 
created about them and have dignified with high-sounding 
names like Culture, Progress, Civilization. A proper person 



29 


The Town of the Tittle People 


may take off his hat with respect to these things, but not 
these little people! Not only do they know nothing of auto¬ 
mobiles, modern travel, airplanes—for a long time they re¬ 
fused to believe in the existence of the old, ordinary railroad 
train. “Such a thing could not be,” they said. “Why,” they 
said, “it’s a dream, a fairy tale. You might just as well talk 
of merry-go-rounds in heaven!” 

But it happened once that a householder of Kasrilevka had 
to go to Moscow. When he came back he swore with many 
oaths that it was true. He himself had ridden in a train to 
Moscow, and it had taken him—he shrugged his shoulders— 
less than an hour. This the little people interpreted to mean 
that he had ridden less than an hour and then walked the 
rest of the way. But still the fact of the train remained. If a 
Jew and a householder of Kasrilevka swore to it, they could 
not deny that there was such a thing as a train. It had to be 
true. He could not have invented it out of thin air. He even 
explained to them the whole miracle of the train, and drew 
a diagram on paper. He showed them how the wheels 
turned, the smokestack whistled, the carriages flew, and peo¬ 
ple rode to Moscow. The little people of Kasrilevka listened 
and listened, nodded their heads solemnly, and deep in their 
hearts they laughed at him. “What a story! The wheels turn, 
the smokestack whistles, the carriages fly and people ride to 
Moscow—and then come back again!” 

That’s how they all are, these little people. None of them 
are gloomy, none of them are worried little men of affairs, 
but on the contrary they are known everywhere as jesters, 
story-tellers, a cheerful, light-hearted breed of men. Poor but 
cheerful. It is hard to say what makes them so happy. Noth¬ 
ing—just sheer joy of living. Living? If you ask them, How 
do you live?” they will answer, with a shrug and a laugh. 
“How do we live? Who knows? We live!” A remarkable 
thing—whenever you meet them they are scurrying like rab¬ 
bits, this one here, that one there. They never have time to 
stop. “What are you hurrying for?” “What am I hurry¬ 
ing for? Well, it’s like this. If we hurry we think we might 



Sholom Aloichem 


30 


run into something—earn a few pennies—provide for the 
Sabbath.” 

To provide for the Sabbath—that is their goal in life. All 
week they labor and sweat, wear themselves out, live without 
food or drink, just so there is something for the Sabbath. 
And when the holy Sabbath arrives, let Yehupetz perish, let 
Odessa be razed, let Paris itself sink into the earth! 
Kasrilevka lives! And this is a fact, that since Kasrilevka was 
founded, no Jew has gone hungry there on the Sabbath. Is it 
possible that there is a Jew who does not have fish for the 
Sabbath? If he has no fish, then he has meat. If he has no 
meat, then he has herring. If he has no herring, then he has 
white bread. If he has no white bread, then he has black 
bread and onions. If he has no black bread and onions, then 
he borrows some from his neighbor. Next week, the neigh¬ 
bor will borrow from him. “The world is a wheel and it 
keeps turning.” The Kasrilevkite repeats this maxim and 
shows you with his hand how it turns. To him a maxim, a 
witty remark, is everything. For an apt remark he will for¬ 
sake his mother and father, as the saying goes. The tales you 
hear about these little people sound fabulous, but you may be 
sure they are all true. 

For instance, there is the story of the Kasrilevkite who got 
tired of starving in Kasrilevka and went out into the wide 
world to seek his fortune. He left the country, wandered far 
and wide, and finally reached Paris. There, naturally, he 
wanted to see Rothschild. For how can a Jew come to Paris 
and not visit Rothschild? But they didn't let him in. “What’s 
the trouble?” he wants to know. “Your coat is torn,” they tell 
him. 

“You fool,” says the Jew. “If I had a good coat, would I 
have gone to Paris?” 

It looked hopeless. But a Kasrilevkite never gives up. He 
thought a while and said to the doorman: “Tell your master 
that it isn't an ordinary beggar who has come to his door, but 
a Jewish merchant, who has brought him a piece of goods 
such as you can’t find in PirH. for any amount of money.” 



31 


The Town of the Little People 


Hearing this, Rothschild became curious and asked that 
the merchant be brought to him. 

“Sholoni aleichem,” said Rothschild. 

“Aleichem sholom said the merchant. 

“Take a seat. And where do you come from?” 

“I come from Kasrilevka.” 

“What good news do you bring?” 

“Well, Mr. Rothschild, they say in our town that you are 
not so badly off. If I had only half of what you own, or only a 
third, you would still have enough left. And honors, I imag¬ 
ine, you don’t lack either, for people always look up to a 
man of riches. Then what do you lack? One thing only— 
eternal life. That is what I have to sell you.” 

When Rothschild heard this he said, “Well, let’s get down 
to business. What will it cost me?” 

“It will cost you”—here the man stopped to consider—“it 
will cost you—three hundred rubles ." 

“Is that your best price?” 

“My very best. I could have said a lot more than three 
hundred. But I said it, so it’s final.” 

Rothschild said no more, but counted out three hundred 
rubles, one by one. 

Our Kasrilevkite slipped the money into his pocket, and 
said to Rothschild: “If you want to live for ever, my advice 
to you is to leave this noisy, busy Paris, and move to our 
town of Kasrilevka. There you can never die, because since 
Kasrilevka has been a town, no rich man has ever died 
there.” 

And then there is the story of the man who got as far as 
America . . . But if I started to tell all the tales of these 
little people I’d have to sit with you for three days and three 
nights and talk and talk and talk. Instead, let us pass on to a 
description of the little town itself. 

Shall I call it a beautiful little town? From a distance it 
looks—how shall I say it?—like a loaf of bread thickly 
studded with poppy seed. Some of the houses are built on 
the slope of a hill, and the rest are huddled together at the 




Sholom Aleichem 


32 


base, one on top of the other, like the gravestones in an 
ancient cemetery. There are no streets to speak of because 
the houses are not built according to any plan, and besides, 
where is there room for such a thing? Why should there be 
vacant space when you can build something on it? It is writ¬ 
ten that the earth is to be inhabited, not merely to be gazed 
at. 

Yet, don’t be upset. There are some streets—big streets, 
little streets, back streets and alleys. What if they happen to 
twist and turn uphill and downhill and suddenly end up in a 
house or a cellar or just a hole in the ground? If you are a 
stranger, never go out alone at night without a lantern. As 
for the little people who live there, don’t worry about them. 
A Kasrilevkite in Kasrilevka, among Kasrilevkites, will never 
get lost. Each one finds the way to his own house, to his wife 
and children, like a bird to its own nest. 

And then in the center of the city there is a wide half- 
circle, or perhaps it is a square, where you find the stores, 
shops, market stands, stalls and tables. There every morning 
the peasants from the surrounding countryside congregate 
with their produce—fish and onions, horseradish, parsnips 
and other vegetables. They sell these things and buy from 
the little people other necessities of life, and from this the 
Kasrilevkites draw their livelihood. A meager one, but better 
than nothing. And in the square also lie all the town’s goats, 
warming themselves in the sun. 

There also stand the synagogues, the meeting houses, the 
chapels and schools of the town where Jewish children study 
the Holy Writ. The noise they and the rabbis make with 
their chanting is enough to deafen one. The baths where the 
women go to bathe are also there, and the poorhouse where 
the old men die, and other such public institutions. No, the 
Kasrilevkites have never heard of canals or water works or 
electricity or other such luxuries. But what does that matter? 
Everywhere people die the same death, and they are placed 
in the same earth, and are beaten down with the same 
spades. Thus my Rabbi, Reb Israel, used to say—when he 



33 


The Town of the Little People 


Vvas happiest, at a wedding or other celebration, after he had 
had a few glasses of wine and was ready to lift up the skirts 
of his long coat and dance a kazatsky . . . 

But the real pride of Kasrilevka is her cemeteries. This 
lucky town has two rich cemeteries, the old and the new. 
The new one is old enough and rich enough in graves. Soon 
there will be no place to put anyone, especially if a pogrom 
should break out or any of the other misfortunes which be¬ 
fall us in these times. 

But it is of the old cemetery that the people of Kasrilevka 
are especially proud. This old cemetery, though it is over¬ 
grown with grass and with bushes and has practically no up¬ 
right headstones, they still value as they might a treasure, a 
rare gem, a piece of wealth, and guard it like the apple of 
their eye. For this is not only the place where their ancestors 
lie, rabbis, men of piety, learned ones, scholars and famous 
people, including the dead from the ancient massacres of 
Chmelnitski’s time—but also the only piece of land of which 
they are the masters, the only bit of earth they own where a 
blade of grass can sprout and a tree can grow and the air is 
fresh and one can breathe freely. 

You should see what goes on in this old cemetery a month 
before the New Year, during the “days of weeping.” Men 
and women—mainly women—swarm up and down the paths 
to their ancestors’ graves. From all the surrounding country 
they come to weep and to pour their hearts out at the holy 
graves. Believe me, there is no place where one can weep so 
freely and with such abandon as in “the field” of Kasrilevka. 
In the synagogue a person can weep pretty freely too, but 
the synagogue doesn’t come up to the cemetery. The ceme¬ 
tery is a source of income for the Kasrilevkite stonecutters, 
innkeepers, cantors and sextons, and the month before the 
New Year is, for the paupers thereabouts and the old women 
and the cripples, the real harvest time. 

“Have you been in ‘our field’ yet?” a Kasrilevkite will ask 
you cheerfully, as though he were asking if you had been io 
his father’s vineyard. If you haven’t been there, do him a 



Sholom Aleichem 


34 


kindness, and go down into “the field, read the old, half- 
obliterated inscriptions on the leaning tombstones and you 
will find in them the story of a whole people. And if you 
happen to be a man of feeling and imagination then you 
will look upon this poor little town with its rich cemeteries 
and repeat the old verses: 

“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob; how good are your 
resting places, O Israel.” 



THE INHERITORS 


The Maiers and the Schnaiers . . . 

Actually there was only one Maier and one Schnaier. They 
were twins and they looked so much alike that there were 
times when it was impossible to tell which of the two was 
Maier and which was Schnaier. As babies, the story goes, a 
queer thing happened to them. They were almost exchanged 
—and it is possible that they really were exchanged. This is 
how it happened. 

Their mother, you may know, was a tiny woman and quite 
frail, but very fruitful. Every year without fail she gave birth 
to a child, but the sickly infant barely lingered through its 
first twelve months and then died. This went on until she 
finally stopped having children and thought she would never 
have another. But in the end a miracle happened. In her old 
age the Lord blessed her again, and this time with twins. And 
since it was too hard for her to suckle two babies, she had to 
hire a wet nurse. What else was there to do? A Kasrilevkite 
—no matter how poor he may be—will never throw a child 
of his into the streets or give it to a stranger to raise, un¬ 
less, God forbid, the child be an orphan. 

Having hired the nurse, the mother took Maier for herself 
(he was older than Schnaier by half an hour) and she gave 
Schnaier to the nurse. But since the nurse was herself not 



Sholom Aleiehem 


36 


such a healthy woman, neither Maier nor Schnaier got too 
much milk. Both babies were equally starved; they screamed 
all night long; tore the house apart with their noise. It hap¬ 
pened one day that the women were bathing the babies, nat¬ 
urally in one basin. They undressed them and put them into 
the hot water. Then, adding fresh water to the basin, they 
watched the children, red and bloated, splashing their little 
hands and feet, rolling about like beetles, enjoying them¬ 
selves hugely. When they were through bathing them they 
took the babies out, wrapped them in a sheet (naturally one 
sheet) and put them to bed (naturally one bed) to dry. But 
when they started to dress them again, they couldn’t tell 
which was Maier and which was Schnaier. And an argument 

took place between the two women. 

“Look here, I could swear that this is Maier and this is 

Schnaier.” 

“How could you say that? This one is Maier and that one 
is Schnaier. Can’t you see?” 

“Do you think I’m dreaming? Either you’re crazy, or just 
out of your head!” 

“Good Lord! Can’t you tell by their eyes that this is Maier 
and that is Schnaier? Look at those two eyes of his!” 

“A fine argument! What do you want him to have—three 

eyes?” 

Well, one of them kept insisting that Maier was Schnaier 
and Schnaier was Maier, and the other that Schnaier was 
Maier and Maier was Schnaier. Until at last the men came 
in and offered a solution. After all, they were men, with 
superior brains. 

“Do you know what?” they suggested. “Try nursing the 
babies and we shall see. The one who takes his mother’s 
breast must be Maier and the one who takes the nurse’s must 
be Schnaier. That’s simple enough.” 

And so it happened. As soon as the babies snuggled up to 
the breast, they each began to suck hungrily, smacked their 
lips, kicked their legs and made sounds like hungry puppies. 


37 


The Inheritors 


“A miracle of God!” said the men, with tears in their 
eyes. ‘‘See how the Almighty has created His world!” 

And as a final test they decided to change the babies and 
see what would happen. The poor infants were torn away 
from their breasts and changed about, Schnaier taking 
Maier’s place and Maier Schnaier’s. And what do you sup¬ 
pose happened? Do you think they stopped sucking? They 
sucked as hard as ever! 

From that time on they gave up trying to tell them apart. 
Let them be Maier-Schnaier and Schnaier-Maier. And they 
were given the name of the Maiers and the Schnaiers, as 
though each one was both a Maier and a Schnaier. More 
than once it happened in cheder that Maier was whipped 
when Schnaier should have got the whipping, or the other 
way around, Schnaier was punished for Maier s misdeeds. 
And in order to avoid hard feelings, the rabbi hit on this 
scheme (do they not say where there is learning there is 
wisdom?): 

“You know what, children? Both of you stretch out. Then 
there will be no argument that I beat this one or that one. It 

will all remain in the family . . .” 

But much, much later—after their Bar Mitzvah, when the 
Maiers and Schnaiers had reached manhood—something hap¬ 
pened that made it possible to tell them apart a mile away 
even at night. What wonders God can devise! The brothers 
began to sprout beards (they must both have begun to smoke 
cigars too early) and on Maier’s cheeks and upper lip there 
appeared black hairs (black as ink) and on Schnaiers face 
red hairs (red as fire). These beards grew as if the devil 
possessed them (they must both have continued to smoke 
cigars), so that by the time they were married they both had 
full beards. Did I say beards? Feather dusters was more like 
it. A black duster and a red one, that looked as if someone 
had glued them on. 

Great are the works of the Lord, and His wonders are 
without end. For who knows what would have come to pass 



Sholom Aleichem 


38 


after their weddings if the beards, too, had been alike? In 
the confusion, even the wives might not have known which 
one of the brothers they had married ... I do not know 
how it is with you in the big cities, but here in Kasrilevka it 
has never yet happened that husbands and wives should start 
exchanging each other. It is possible that there are husbands 
among us who would not object to this, but they know their 
wives and they know what they would get from them. How¬ 
ever, all this is beside the point. The real story begins now. 

Up till now we have concerned ourselves only with the 
Maiers and Schnaiers, that is with Maier and Schnaier, and 
we have become slightly acquainted with their mother and 
nurse, but we have not said a word about their father, as 
though they had never had a father. God forbid! Such a 
thing may have happened to others, but never to our kind of 
people. We have, thank God, no homes for foundlings where 
children are raised by strangers. It has never happened 
among us that a child should grow up and not know who 
his real father was. And if such a thing has happened, it has 
happened somewhere in Odessa or in Paris or in faraway 
America ... As for Kasrilevka, I can swear that such a 
thing has never happened, and if it did, it happened to some 
servant girl or some other unfortunate maiden who was led 
astray by accident, through no fault of her own—an unhappy 
victim of another’s lust . . . 

In short, the Maiers and Schnaiers had a father, and a very 
fine father, too. He was a virtuous and an honest man named 
Rcb Shimshen, and he had a magnificent beard, long and 
rich and luxurious. In fact, it could be said without exaggera¬ 
tion that Reb Shimshen had more beard than face. And 
for that reason he was known in Kasrilevka as Reb Shimshen 
Beard. 

And this Reb Shimshen was—I don’t even know what he 
was. But you can be sure that all his life he struggled and 
sweated for a meager living, waged constant warfare against 
poverty. Sometimes he overcame poverty; sometimes poverty 



39 


The Inheritors 


overcame him, as is usual with Kasrilevkites, w'ho are not 
afraid of want, but thumb their noses at it . . . 

And Reb Shimshen lived out his life and finally he died. 
And when he died he was given a handsome burial. Al¬ 
most the whole town followed his remains to the cemetery. 

“Who is it that died?” 

“Haven't you heard? Reb Shimshen.” 

“Which Reb Shimshen?” 

“Reb Shimshen Beard.” 

“A great pity. So Reb Shimshen Beard is gone from us 
too.” 

That is what they said in Kasrilevka and mourned not so 
much for Reb Shimshen himself as for the fact that with his 
death there was one person less in Kasrilevka. Strange peo¬ 
ple, these Kasrilevkites! In spite of the fact that they are so 
poor that they almost never have enough for themselves, they 
would be pleased if no one among them ever died. Their 
only comfort is that people die everywhere, even in Paris, 
and that no one can buy his way out. Even Rothschild him¬ 
self, who is greater than royalty, has to get up and go when 
the Angel of Death beckons. 


Now let us turn back again to the Maiers and Schnaiers. 

As long as Reb Shimshen was alive the Maiers and 
Schnaiers lived as one, brothers in body and soul. But when 
their father died they became enemies at once, ready to tear 
each other’s beards out. Perhaps you wonder why? Well, why 
do sons ever fight after a father’s death? Naturally, over the 
inheritance. It is true that Reb Shimshen did not leave be¬ 
hind any farms or woodlands, houses or rental property, and 
certainly no cash. Nor did he leave any jewelry, silver or 
furniture to his children—not because he was mean or avari¬ 
cious, but simply because he had nothing to leave. And yet 
don’t think that Reb Shimshen left his children absolutely 
nothing. He left them a treasure that could be turned to 
money at any time, a treasure that could be pawned, rented 



Sholom Aleiohem 


40 


or sold outright. This treasure we speak of was the seat he 
had had in the old Kasrilevka Synagogue, a seat along the 
east wall right next to Reb Yozifel, the Rabbi, who was next 
to the Holy Ark. It is true that Kasrilevka wits have a saying 
that it is better to have an acre outside than a seat inside, 
but that is only a saying, and when the Lord is kind and a 
person does have his own seat, and along the east wall at that, 
it’s not so very bad—and certainly better than nothing . . . 

In short, Reb Shimshen left behind a seat in the old 
Kasrilevka Synagogue. But he forgot one small detail. He 
didn’t indicate who was to inherit the seat—Maier or 
Schnaier. 

Obviously Reb Shimshen—may he forgive me—did not 
expect to die. He had forgotten that the Angel of Death 
lurks always behind our backs and watches every step we 
take, else he would surely have made a will or otherwise in¬ 
dicated in the presence of witnesses to which of his two sons 
he wanted to leave his fortune. 

Well, what do you suppose? The very first Saturday after 
they arose from mourning, the quarrel began. Maier argued 
that according to law the seat belonged to him, since he was 
the older (by a good half-hour). And Schnaier had two argu¬ 
ments in his favor: first, they were not sure which of the 
two was older because according to their mother’s story they 
had been exchanged as infants and he was really Maier and 
Maier was really Schnaier. In the second place, Maier had a 
rich father-in-law who also owned a seat along the east wall 
of the synagogue, and since the father-in-law had no sons the 
seat would eventually be Maier’s. And when that happened 
Maier would have two seats by the east wall and Schnaier 
would have none whatever. And if that was the case, where 
was justice? Where was humanity? 

When he heard of these goings-on, Maier’s father-in-law, a 
man of means, but one who had made his money only re¬ 
cently, entered the battle. “You’ve got a lot of nerve!” he 
exclaimed. “I am not forty yet and I have every intention of 
living a long time, and here you are, dividing up my in- 



41 


The Inheritors 


heritance already. And besides, how do you know that I 
won’t have a son yet? I may have more than one, see!” he 
stormed. “There is impudence for you!” 

So their neighbors tried to make peace between them, sug¬ 
gested that they determine how much the seat was worth and 
then have one brother buy his share from the other. That 
sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? The only trouble was 
that neither brother wanted to sell his share. They didn’t 
care a thing about the money. What was money—compared 
to stubbornness and pride? 

“How can one’s own brother be so pigheaded as to keep a 
person away from his rightful seat?” “Why should you have 
our father’s place, and not 1?” It became a matter not so 
much of having things his own way as it was of preventing 
the other from having his. As the saying is: If I don’t, you 
don’t either. And the rivalry between the Maiers and the 
Schnaiers increased in fury. Stubbornness gave way to cun¬ 
ning as each tried to outwit the other! 

The first Sabbath Maier came early and sat down in his 
father’s seat; and Schnaier remained standing throughout the 
services. The second Sabbath Schnaier came first and occu¬ 
pied his father’s place, while Maier remained standing. The 
third Sabbath Maier got there still earlier, spread himself out 
in the seat, pulled his tallis over his head, and there 
he was . . . 

The next time it was Schnaier who hurried to get there 
first, sat down in the coveted seat, pulled his tallis over his 
face—and just try to budge him! The following week Maier 
was the first to get there . . . This went on week after 
week till one fine Sabbath both of them arrived at the same 
time—it was still dark outside—took their posts at the door 
of the synagogue (it was still shut) and glared at each other 
like roosters ready to tear each other’s eyes out. It was like 
this that long ago the first two brothers stood face to face in 
an empty field, under God’s blue sky, full of anger, ready to 
annihilate one another, devour each other, spill innocent 
blood . . . 



Sholom Aleichem 


42 


But let us not forget that the Maiers and Schnaiers were 
young men of good family, respectable and well behaved— 
not rowdies who were in the habit of assaulting each other in 
public. They waited for Ezriel, the shammes, to come and 
open the door of the synagogue. Then they would show the 
whole world who would get to their father’s seat first—Maier 
or Schnaier . . . 

The minutes passed like years till Ezriel arrived with the 
keys. And when Ezriel, with his tangled beard, arrived he 
was not able to reach the door because the brothers stood 
against it—one with the left foot, the other with the right 
foot, and would not budge an inch. 

“Well, what's going to happen?” said Ezriel casually, tak¬ 
ing a pinch of snuff. “If the two of you insist on standing 
there like mean scarecrows I won’t be able to open the door 
and the synagogue will have to remain closed all day. Go 
ahead and tell me: does that make sense?” 

Apparently these words had some effect, because the 
Maiers and Schnaiers both moved back, one to the right, the 
other to the left, and made way for Ezriel and his key. And 
when the key turned in the lock and the door swung open, 
the Maiers and Schnaiers tumbled in headlong. 

4 Be careful, you're killing me!” yelled Ezriel the shammes, 
and before he could finish the words the poor man lay 
trampled under their feet, screaming in horror: “Watch out! 
You’re trampling all over me—the father of a family!” 

But the Maiers and Schnaiers cared nothing for Ezriel and 
his family. Their only thought was for the seat, their father’s 
seat, and jumping over benches and praying stands they 
made for the east wall. There they planted themselves firmly 
against the wall with their shoulders and the floor with their 
feet and tried to shove each other aside. In the scuffle they 
caught each other’s beards, grimaced horribly, gritted their 
teeth and growled: “May the plague take you before you get 
this seat!” 

In the meantime Ezriel got up from the floor, felt to see if 
any of his bones were broken, and approached the brothers. 



43 


The Inheritors 


He found them both on the floor clutching each other’s 
beards. At first he tried to reason with them. 

“Shame on you! Two brothers—children of the same 
father and mother—tearing each other’s beards out! And in a 
Holy Place at that! Be ashamed of yourselves!” 

But Ezriel gathered that at the moment his lecture was in 
vain. Actually, his words added fuel to the flame so that the 
two children of one father became so enraged that one of 
them clutched in his fist a tuft of black hair (from Maier’s 
beard) and the other a tuft of red (Schnaier’s beard); blue 
marks showed on both faces and from the nose of one 
streamed blood. 

As long as it was merely a matter of pulling beards, slap¬ 
ping and pummeling each other, the shammes could content 
himself with reading a lecture. But when he saw blood 
streaming, Ezriel could stand it no longer, for blood, even 
though only from a punched nose, was an ugly thing fit for 
rowdies and not God-fearing men. 

He wasted no time, but ran to the tap, grabbed a dipper of 
water, and poured it over the two brothers. Cold water has 
always—since the world was created—been the best means 
of reviving a person. A man may be in the greatest rage, but 
as soon as he gets a cold bath he is strangely refreshed and 
cool; he comes to his senses. This happened to the Maiers 
and the Schnaiers. At the unexpected shower of cold water 
to which Ezriel had treated them, they woke up, looked each 
other in the eyes, and grew ashamed—like Adam and Eve 
when they had tasted of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of 
Knowledge and saw their nakedness . . . 

And that very Saturday night the Maiers and Schnaiers 
went together with their friends and neighbors to the home 
of Reb Yozifel, the Rabbi, to have the dispute settled. 

If Kasrilevka had not been such a tiny place, stuck away in 
a forgotten corner, far from the great world, and if news¬ 
papers and periodicals had been printed there, the world 
would surely have come to know the works of our Rabbi, 



Sholom Aleichem 


44 


Reb Yozifel. The papers would have been full of tales about 
him and his wisdom. The great, the wise and the famous of 
the world would have traveled far to see him in person and 
to hear from his own lips the words of wisdom. Photog¬ 
raphers and painters would have made portraits of him and 
spread them to the four corners of the earth. Interviewers 
would have plagued him, given him no rest. They would 
have asked him all his views—what his favorite dishes were, 
how many hours a day he slept, what he thought about this 
and that, about cigarette smoking and bicycle riding . . . 
But since Kasrilevka is a tiny place stuck away in a forgot¬ 
ten corner, far from the world, and papers and periodicals 
are not printed there, the world knows nothing of the exist¬ 
ence of Reb Yozifel. The papers never mention his name. 
The great, the wise and the famous do not come to him, 
photographers and painters do not make pictures of him. In¬ 
terviewers leave him alone. And Reb Yozifel lives his life 
quietly, modestly, without noise or fanfare. No one knows 
anything about him except the town of Kasrilevka, which 
marvels at him, glories in his wisdom, and pays him great 
honor (of riches there is little in Kasrilevka, but honor they 
will give one as much as he deserves). They say that he is 
a man who modestly conceals his wisdom and it is only 
when you come to him for judgment that you find out how 
deep he is, how profound, how sharp. Another Solomon! 

With the Sabbath over and the benedictions completed, 
the Maiers and Schnaiers came to Reb Yozifel to have their 
dispute settled, and there they found the house already full 
of people. The whole town was anxious to hear how he 
would settle it, how he would divide one seat between two 
brothers. 

First he gave both sides a chance to unburden themselves. 
Reb Yozifel works according to this theory: that before the 
verdict is handed down the litigants should have the right 
to say anything they want to—because after the verdict all 
the talking in the world won’t help. After that he let Ezriel, 
the shammes, talk. After all, he was the chief witness. And 



45 


The Inheritors 


then other townspeople had their turn—everyone who had 
the public welfare at heart. And they talked as long as they 
wanted. Reb Yozifel is the kind of person who lets everyone 
talk. He is something of a philosopher. He feels this way 
about it: that no matter how long a person talks, he will 
have to stop some time. 

And that is just what happened. They talked and talked 
and talked, and finally stopped talking. And when the last 
person was through, Reb Yozifel turned to the Maiers and 
Schnaiers and spoke to them quietly, calmly, as his custom 
was. 

“Hear ye, my friends—this is my opinion. According to 
what I have heard from you and from all the other citizens 
it is apparent that both of you are right. You both had one 
father, and a very noble father, too—may he enjoy the bless¬ 
ings of Paradise. The only trouble is that he left you only 
one seat in the synagogue. Naturally, this seat is very dear to 
both of you. After all—it is something to own one’s seat 
along the east wall of the old, old Kasrilevka Synagogue. 
You can’t dismiss that with a wave of the hand. What then? 
Just as it is impossible for one person to use two seats, so it 
is impossible for two people to use a single one. On the con¬ 
trary, it is much easier for one person to use two seats than 
for two to use one.” 

And so with example and precept he went on to explain 
the difficulty of the situation. 

“But there is one way,” he continued, “in which each of 
you can sit along the eastern wall in adjoining seats. I have 
come upon this solution after much reflection. And this is 
what I have to say. My seat in the synagogue is right next to 
the one your father left. One of you can have my seat and 
then both of you brothers can sit next to each other in peace 
and amity, and you will have no need to quarrel any more. 
And if you will ask what will I do without a seat? then I 
will answer you with another question: Where is it written 
that a rabbi or any other man, for that matter, must have his 
own seat and especially at the east wall, and at the old 



Sholom Aleiehem 


46 


Kasrilevka Synagogue at that? Let us stop to consider. What 
is a synagogue? A house of prayer. And why do we go to 
the synagogue? To pray. To whom? To the Almighty. And 
where is He found? Everywhere. All the world is filled with 
His glory. If that is the case, then what difference does it 
make whether it is east or north or south, whether it is near 
the Ark or by the door? The important thing is to come to 
the synagogue and to pray. 

“Let me give you an example. Once there was a 
king . . 

And there followed another of Reb Yozifel’s parables of 
the two servants who began to tear each other’s beards in 
the presence of the king. And they were sent away with 
this admonition: “If you want to tear each other’s beards, go 
outside and do it as much as your heart desires, but do not 
defile my palace . . .” 

Thus Reb Yozifel chided them gently, and then he said, 
“Go home now, my children, in peace and let your father be 
an advocate in heaven for you, for us, and for all Israel.” 

Thus the Rabbi handed down his verdict and all the peo¬ 
ple went home. 

The following Sabbath, the Maiers and Schnaiers came to 
the synagogue and stationed themselves near the door. No 
matter how much they were entreated by the shammes on 
one side and the Rabbi on the other, they refused to occupy 
the seats by the east wall. 

If there is anyone who would like to have his own seat by 
the east wall in the old, old Kasrilevka Synagogue, the seat 
next to Reb Yozifel, the Rabbi, at a reasonable price, let 
him go to Kasrilevka and see the children of Reb Shimshen 
Beard, either Maier or Schnaier, it does not matter which. 
They will sell it to you at any price you say, because neither 
of them uses that seat any more. It stands there—unoccupied. 

What a waste! 



TEVYE WINS A 
FORTUNE 


Who raiseth up the poor out of the dust. 

And lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill. 

—psalms, 113:7. 

If you are destined to draw the winning ticket in the lottery, 
Mr. Sholom Aleichem, it will come right into your house 
without your asking for it. As King David says, “It never 
rains but it pours.” You don’t need wisdom or skill. And, on 
the contrary, if you are not inscribed as a winner in the 
Books of the Angels, you can talk yourself blue in the face 
—it won’t help you. The Talmud is right: “You can lead a 
horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” A person 
slaves, wears himself to the bone, and gets nowhere. He 
might as well lie down and give up his ghost. Suddenly, no 
one knows how or for what reason, money rolls in from all 
sides. As the passage has it, “Relief and deliverance will 
come to the Jews.” I don’t have to explain that to you. It 
should be clear to both of us that so long as a Jew can still 
draw breath and feel the blood beating in his veins, he must 
never lose hope. I have seen it in my own experience, in the 
way the Lord dealt with me in providing me with my pres¬ 
ent livelihood. For how else should I happen to be selling 
cheese and butter all of a sudden? In my wildest dreams I 
had never seen myself as a dairyman. 

Take my word for it, the story is worth hearing. I’ll sit 
down for a little while here near you on the grass. Let the 



Sholom Aleichem 


48 


horse do a little nibbling meanwhile. After all, even a horse 
is one of God’s living creatures. 

Well, it was in the late spring, around Shevuos time. But I 
don’t want to mislead you; it may have been a week or two 
before Shevuos, or—let’s see—maybe a couple of weeks after 
Shevuos. Don’t forget, this didn’t happen yesterday. Wait! 
To be exact, it was nine or ten years ago to the day. And 
maybe a trifle more. 

In those days I was not the man I am today. That is, I was 
the same Tevye, and yet not exactly the same. The same old 
woman, as they say, but in a different bonnet. How so? I 
was as poor as a man could be, completely penniless. If you 
want to know the truth I’m not a rich man now either, but 
compared with what I was then I can now really call myself 
a man of wealth. I have a horse and wagon of my own, a 
couple of cows that give milk, and a third that is about to 
calve. We can’t complain. We have cheese and butter and 
fresh cream all the time. We make it ourselves; that is, our 
family does. We all work. No one is idle. My wife milks the 
cows; the children carry pitchers and pails, churn the butter. 
And I myself, as you see, drive to market every morning, 
go from datcha to datcha in Boiberik, visit with people, 
see this one and that one, all the important businessmen 
from Yehupetz who come there for the summer. Talking to 
them makes me feel that I am somebody, too; I amount to 
something in the world. 

And when Saturday comes—then I really live like a king! 
I look into the Holy Books, read the weekly portion of the 
Bible, dip into the commentaries. Psalms, Perek, this, that, 
something else . . . Ah, you’re surprised, Mr. Sholom Alei¬ 
chem! No doubt you’re thinking to yourself, “Ah, that Tevye 
—there’s a man for you!” 

Anyway, what did I start to tell you? That’s right. Those 
days. Oh, was Tevye a pauper then! With God’s help I 
starved to death—I and my wife and children—three times a 
day, not counting supper. I worked like a horse, pulling 
wagonloads of logs from the woods to the railroad station for 



49 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


—I am ashamed to admit it—half a ruble a day. And that 
not every day, either. And on such earnings just try to fill all 
those hungry mouths, not counting that boarder of mine, the 
poor horse, whom I can’t put off with a quotation from the 
Talmud. 

So what does the Lord do? He is a great, all-powerful 
God. He manages His little world wisely and well. Seeing 
how I was struggling for a hard crust of bread. He said to 
me: “Do you think, Tevye, that you have nothing more to 
live for, that the world has come to an end? If that’s what 
you think, you’re a big lummox. Soon you will see: if I will 
it, your luck can change in one turn of the wheel, and what 
was dark as the grave will be full of brightness.” As we say 
on Yom Kippur, the Lord decides who will ride on horse¬ 
back and who will crawl on foot. The main thing is—hope! 
A Jew must always hope, must never lose hope. And in the 
meantime, what if we waste away to a shadow? For that we 
are Jews—the Chosen People, the envy and admiration of the 
world. 

Anyway, this is how it happened. As the Bible says, “And 
there came the day . . One evening in summer I was 
driving through the woods on my way home with an empty 
wagon. My head was bent, my heart was heavy. The little 
horse, poor thing, was barely dragging its feet. “Ah,” I said 
to it, “crawl along, shlimazl! If you are Tevye’s horse you too 
must know the pangs of hunger . . All around was 
silence, every crack of the whip echoed through the woods. 
As the sun set the shadows of the trees stretched out and 
lengthened—like our Jewish exile. Darkness was creeping in 
and a sadness filled my heart. Strange, faraway thoughts filled 
my mind, and before my eyes passed the images of people 
a long time dead. And in the midst of it all I thought of my 
home and my family. And I thought, “Woe unto us all.” 
The wretched dark little hut that was my home, and the 
children barefoot and in tatters waiting for their father, the 
shlimazl. Maybe he would bring them a loaf of bread or a 
few stale rolls. And my wife, grumbling as a wife will: 



Sholom Aleichem 


50 


“Children I had to bear him—seven of them. I might as well 
take them all and throw them into the river—may God not 
punish me for these words!” 

You can imagine how I felt. We are only human. The 
stomach is empty and words won’t fill it. If you swallow a 
piece of herring you want some tea, and for tea you need 
sugar. And sugar, I am told, is in the grocery store. “My 
stomach,” says my wife, “can get along without a piece of 
bread, but if I don’t take a glass of tea in the morning, I am 
a dead woman. All night long the baby sucks me dry.” 

But in spite of everything, we are still Jews. When eve¬ 
ning comes we have to say our prayers. You can imagine 
what the prayers sounded like if I tell you that just as I 
was about to begin Shmin-esra my horse suddenly broke 
away as if possessed by the devil and ran wildly off through 
the woods. Have you ever tried standing on one spot facing 
the east while a horse was pulling you where it wanted to 
go? I had no choice but to run after him, holding on to 
the reins and chanting, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and 
God of Jacob.” A fine way to say Shmin-esra! And just my 
luck, at a moment when I was in the mood to pray with 
feeling, out of the depths of my heart, hoping it would lift 
my spirits . . . 

So there I was, running after the wagon and chanting at 
the top of my voice, as if I were a cantor in a synagogue: 
"Thou sustainest the living with loving kindness (and some¬ 
times with a little food) and keepest thy faith with them 
that sleep in the dust. (The dead are not the only ones who 
lie in the dust; Oh, how low we the living are laid, what 
hells we go through, and I don’t mean the rich people of 
Yehupetz who spend their summers at the datchas of 
Boiberik, eating and drinking and living off the fat of the 
land . . . Oh, Heavenly Father, why does this happen to 
me? Am I not as good as others? Help me, dear God!) 
Look upon our afflictions. (Look down, dear God! See how 
we struggle and come to the aid of the poor, because who 
will look out for us if you don’t?) Heal us, O Lord, and we 



51 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


shall be healed. (Send us the cure, we have the ailment al¬ 
ready.) Bless this year for us, O Lord . our God, with every 
kind of produce (corn and wheat and every other grain, and 
if you do, will I get anything out of it, shlimazl that I am? 
For instance, what difference does it make to my poor horse 
whether oats are dear or cheap?).” 

But that’s enough. Of God you don’t ask questions. If 
you’re one of the Chosen People you must see the good in 
everything and say, “This too is for the best.” God must 
have willed it so . . . 

“And for slanderers let there be no hope,” I chant further. 
The slanderers and rich scoffers who say there is no God—a 
fine figure they’ll cut when they get there. They’ll pay for 
their disbelief, and with interest too, for He is one who 
“breaketh his enemies and humbleth the arrogant.” He pays 
you according to your deserts. You don’t trifle with Him; you 
approach Him humbly, pray to Him and beg His mercy. “O 
Merciful Father, hear our voice, pay heed to our lamenta¬ 
tions. Spare us and have mercy upon us (my wife and chil¬ 
dren too—they are hungry). Accept, O Lord, thy people 
Israel and their prayer, even as you did in the days of the 
Holy Temple, when the priests and the Levites . . .” 

Suddenly the horse stopped. In a hurry I finish Shmin-esra, 
lift up my eyes, and behold two mysterious creatures coming 
toward me out of the forest, disguised or at least dressed in 
the strangest fashion. “Thieves,” I thought, but corrected my¬ 
self at once. “What is the matter with you, Tevye? You’ve 
been driving through this forest for so many years by day 
and by night; why should you suddenly begin to worry about 
thieves?” And swinging my whip over my head, I yelled at 
the horse, “Giddap!” 

“Mister!” one of the two creatures called out to me. “Stop! 
Please stop! Don’t run away, mister, we won’t do you any 
harm!” 

“An evil spirit!” I said to myself, and a second later, “You 
ox, Tevye, you ass! Why should evil spirits come to you all 
of a sudden?” And I stop the horse. I look the creatures over 



Sholoxn Aleichem 


from head to foot: they are ordinary women. One elderly 
with a silk shawl on her head and the other a younger one 
with a sheitel. Both flushed and out of breath. 

“Good evening,” I cry out loud, trying to sound cheerful. 
“Look who’s here! What is it you want? If you want to buy 
something, all I have is a gnawing stomach, a heart full of 
pain, a head full of worries, and all the misery and wretched¬ 
ness in the world.” 

“Listen to him going on,” they say. “That’s enough. You 
say one word to a man and you get a lecture in return. 
There is nothing we want to buy. We only want to ask: do 
you know where the road to Boiberik is?” 

“To Boiberik?” I say, and let out a laugh, still trying to 
sound cheerful. “You might as well ask me if I know my 
name is Tevye.” 

“Oh? So that’s what they call you—Tevye? Good evening, 
then, Mr. Tevye. What is there to laugh at? We are stran¬ 
gers here. We are from Yehupetz, and we are staying at a 
datcha in Boiberik. This morning we went out for a short 
walk in the woods, and we’ve been wandering ever since, go¬ 
ing round and round in circles. A little while ago we heard 
someone singing in the forest. At first we thought it was a 
highwayman, but when we came closer and saw it was only 
you, we felt relieved. Now do you understand?” 

“Ha-ha!” I laughed. “A fine highwayman! Have you ever 
heard the story about the Jewish highwayman who waylaid 
a traveler in the forest and demanded—a pinch of snuff? If 
you’d like, I could tell it to you . . .” 

“Leave that for some other time,” they said. “Right now, 
show us how to get back to Boiberik.” 

“To Boiberik?” I said again. “Why, this is the way to 
Boiberik. Even if you don’t want to, you couldn’t help get¬ 
ting there if you followed this path.” 

“Oh,” said they. “Is it far?” 

“No, not far. Only a few versts. That is, five or six. Maybe 
seven. But certainly not more than eight.” 

“Eight versts!” they both cried out, wringing their hands 



53 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


and all but bursting into tears. “Do you know what you’re 
saying? Only eight versts!” 

“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked. “If it 
were up to me, I’d have made it a little shorter. But people 
have to have all sorts of experiences. How would you like to 
be in a carriage crawling up a hill through mud in a heavy 
rain, late Friday afternoon and almost time to light the 
candles for the Sabbath? Your hands are numb, you’re faint 
with hunger . . . And crash! The axle breaks! 

“You talk like a half-wit,” they said. “You must be out of 
your head. Why do you tell us these old-wives’ tales? We’re 
too tired to take another step. We’ve had nothing to eat all 
day except for a glass of coffee and a butter roll in the morn¬ 
ing, and you come bothering us with foolish tales. 

“Well, that’s different,” I told them. “You can’t expect a 
person to dance before he’s eaten. The taste of hunger is 
something I understand very well. You don t have to explain 
it to me. It’s quite possible that I haven’t even seen a cup of 
coffee or butter roll for the past year . . . And as I utter 
these words a glass of steaming coffee with milk in it ap¬ 
pears before my eyes, with rich, fresh butter rolls and other 
good things besides. “Oh, shlimazl” I say to myself, “is that 
what you’ve been raised on—coffee and butter rolls? And a 
plain piece of bread with herring isn’t good enough for 
you?” But there, just to spite me, the image of hot coffee re¬ 
mained; just to tempt me the vision of rolls hovered before 
my eyes. I smelled the odor of the coffee, I savored the taste 
of the butter roll on my tongue—fresh and rich and 
sweet 

“Do you know what, Reb Tevye?” the women said to me. 
“Since we are standing right here, maybe it would be a good 
idea if we jumped into your wagon and you took us home to 

Boiberik. What do you say?” 

“A fine idea,” I said. “Here am I, coming from Boiberik, 

and you’re going to Boiberik. How can I go both ways at 
the same time?” 

“Well,” they said, “don’t you know what you can do? A 



Sholom Aleicbem 


54 


wise and learned man can figure it out for himself. He would 
turn the wagon around and go back again—that’s all. 
Don’t be afraid, Reb Tevye. You can be sure that when you 
and the Almighty get us back home again, we’ll see to it 
that your kindness won’t go unrewarded.” 

“They’re talking Chaldaic,” I told myself. “I don't under¬ 
stand them. What do they mean?” And the thought of 
witches and evil spirits and goblins returned to me. 
“Dummy, what are you standing there for?” I asked myself. 
“Jump into the wagon, show the horse your whip, and get 
away from here!” But again, as if I were under a spell, these 
words escaped me: “Well, get in.” 

The women did not wait to be asked again. Into the 
wagon they climb, with me after them. I turn the wagon 
around, crack the whip—one, two, three, let’s go . . . Who? 
What? When? The horse doesn’t know what I’m talking 
about. He won’t move an inch. “Ah-ha,” I think to myself. 
“Now I can see what these women are. That’s all I had to do 
—stop in the middle of the woods to make conversation 
with women!” You get the picture: on all sides the woods, 
silent, melancholy, with night coming on, and here behind 
me these two creatures in the guise of women. My imagina¬ 
tion runs away with me. I recall a story about a teamster 
who once was riding through the woods by himself when he 
saw lying on the road a bag of oats. He jumped down, 
heaved the heavy sack to his back and just managed to tip 
it into the wagon, and went on. He rode a verst or two, 
looked around at the sack—but there was neither sack nor 
oats. In the wagon was a goat, a goat with a beard. The 
teamster tried to touch it with his hand, but the goat stuck 
out his tongue—a yard long—and let out a wild, piercing 
laugh and vanished into air . . . 

“Well, what’s keeping you?” ask the women. 

“What’s keeping me? Can’t you see what’s keeping me? 
The horse doesn’t want to play. He is not in the mood.” 

“Well, you’ve got a whip, haven’t you? Then use it.” 

“Thanks for the advice,” I say. “I’m glad you reminded me. 



Tevye Wins a Fortune 


The only trouble with that is that my friend here is not 
afraid of such things. He is as used to the whip as I am to 
poverty,” I add, trying to be flippant, though all the time I 
am shaking as if in a fever. 

Well, what more can I tell you? I vented all my wrath on 
the poor animal. I whipped him till with God’s help the 
horse stirred from his place, and we went on our way through 
the woods. And as we ride along a new thought comes to 
plague me. “Ah, Tevye, what a dull ox you are! You have 
always been good for nothing and you’ll die good for noth¬ 
ing. Think! Here something happens to you that won’t hap¬ 
pen again in a hundred years. God Himself must have ar¬ 
ranged it. So why didn’t you make sure in advance how much 
it is going to be worth to you—how much you’ll get for it? 
Even if you consider righteousness and virtue, decency and 
helpfulness, justice and equity and 1 don t know what else, 
there is still no harm in earning a little something for your¬ 
self out of it. Why not lick a bone for once in your life, 
since you have the chance? Stop your horse, you ox. 
Tell them what you want. Either you get so much and so 
much for the trip, or ask them to be so kind as to jump off 
the wagon at once! But then, what good would that dor 
What if they promised you the whole world on a platter? 
You have to catch a bear before you can skin it . . . 

“Why don’t you drive a little faster?” the women ask 

again, prodding me from behind. 

“What’s your hurry?” I say. “Nothing good can come from 
rushing too much.” And I look around at my passengers. 
I’ll swear they look like women, just plain ordinary women, 
one with a silk shawl, the other with a sheitel. They are 
looking at each other and whispering. Then one of them 

asks: “Are we getting closer?” 

“Closer, yes. But not any closer than we really are. Pretty 
soon we’ll go uphill and then downhill, then uphill and 
downhill again, and then after that we go up the steep, hill 
and from then on it’s straight ahead, right to Boiberik. 

“Sounds like a shlimazl” says one to the other. 



Sholom Aleichem 


56 


“A seven-year itch,” the other answers. 

“As if we haven’t had troubles enough already,” says the 

first. 

“A little crazy too. I’m afraid,” answers the other. 

“I must be crazy,” I tell myself, “if I let them pull me 
around by the nose like that.” 

And to them I say, “Where do you want to be dropped 

off, ladies?” 

“Dropped off? What do you mean—dropped off? What 
kind of language is that?” 

“It’s only an expression. You hear it among coarse and im¬ 
polite drovers,” I tell them. “Among genteel people like us 
we’d say it like this: ‘Where would you wish to be trans¬ 
ported, dear ladies, when with God’s help and the blessings 
of Providence we arrive at Boiberik?’ Excuse me if I sound 
inquisitive, but as the saying goes, ‘It’s better to ask twice 
than to go wrong once.’ ” 

“Oh, so that’s what you mean?” said the women. “Go 
straight ahead through the woods until you come to the 
green datchci by the river. Do you know where that is?” 

“How could I help knowing?” I say. “I know Boiberik as 
well as I know my own home. I wish I had a thousand rubles 
for every log I’ve carried there. Last summer I brought a 
couple of loads of wood to that datcha you mention. Some¬ 
body from Yehupetz was living there then, a rich man, a 
millionaire. He must have been worth at least a hundred 
thousand rubles'' 

“He still lives there,” they tell me, looking at each other, 
whispering together and laughing. 

“In that case,” I said, “if you have some connections with 
the man, maybe it would be possible, if you wanted to, that 
is, if you could say a word or two in my behalf . . . Maybe 
you could get some sort of job for me, work of some kind. 
I know a man, a young fellow called Yisroel, who lived not 
far from our village—a worthless good-for-nothing. Well, he 
went off to the city, no one knows how it happened, and 
today, believe it or not, he is an important man somewhere. 



57 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


He makes at least twenty rubles a week, or maybe even 
forty. Who knows for sure? Some people are lucky, like our 
shochet's son-in-law. What would he ever have amounted to if 
he hadn’t gone to Yehupetz? It is true, the first few years 
he starved to death. But now I wouldn’t mind being in his 
boots. Regularly he sends money home, and he would like to 
bring his wife and children to Yehupetz to live with him, 
but he can’t do it, because by law he isn’t allowed to live 
there himself. Then how does he do it? Never mind. He has 
trouble aplenty, only if you live long enough . . . Oh, here 
we are at the river, and there is the green datcha!” 

And I drive in smartly right up to the porch. You should 
have seen the excitement when they saw us. Such cheering 
and shouting! “Grandmother! Mother! Auntie! They’ve come 
home again! Congratulations! Mazl-tov! Heavens, where 
were you? We went crazy all day! Sent messengers in all 
directions. . . . We thought—who can tell? Maybe wolves, 
highwaymen—who knows? Tell us, what happened?” 

“What happened? What should happen? We got lost in 
the woods, wandered far away, till a man happened along. 
What kind of a man? A shlimazl with a horse and wagon. 
It took a little coaxing, but here we are.” 

“Of all horrible things! It’s a dream, a nightmare! Just the 
two of you—without a guide! Thank God you’re safe! ’ 

To make a long story short, they brought lamps out on the 
porch, spread the table, and began bringing things out. Hot 
samovars, tea glasses, sugar, preserves, and fresh pastry that I 
could smell even from where I was standing; after that all 
kinds of food: rich fat soup, roast beef, goose, the best of 
wines and salads. I stood at the edge of the porch looking at 
them from a distance and thinking, “What a wonderful life 
these people of Yehupetz must live, praise the Lord! I 
wouldn’t mind being one of them myself. What these peo¬ 
ple drop on the floor would be enough to feed my starving 
children all week long. O God, All-powerful and All-merci¬ 
ful, great and good, kind and just, how does it happen that 
to some people you give everything and to others nothing? 



Sholom Aleichem 


58 


To some people butter rolls and to others the plague?” But 
then I tell myself, ‘‘You big fool, Tevye! Are you trying to 
tell Him how to rule His world? Apparently if He wants it 
that way, that’s the way it ought to be. Can’t you see? If it 
should have been different it would have been? And yet, 
what would have been wrong to have it different? True! We 
were slaves in Pharaoh’s day, too. That’s why we are the 
Chosen People. That’s why we must have faith and hope. 
Faith, first of all in a God, and hope that maybe in time, 
with His help, things will become a little better . . .” 

But then I hear someone say, “Wait! Where is he, this 
man you’ve mentioned? Did he drive away already—the 
shlimazl?" 

“God forbid!” I call out from the edge of the porch. 
“What do you think? That I’d go away like this—without 
saying anything? Good evening! Good evening to you all, 
and may the Lord bless you. Eat well, and may your food 
agree with you!” 

“Come here!” they said to me. “What are you standing 
there for in the dark? Let’s take a look at you, see what you 
are like! Maybe you’d like a little whiskey?” 

“A little whiskey?” said I. “Who ever refused a drink of 
whiskey? How does it say in the Talmud? ‘God is God, but 
whiskey is something you can drink!’ To your health, ladies 
and gentlemen.” 

And I turn up the first glass. “May God provide for you,” 
I say. “May He keep you rich and happy. Jews,” I say, “must 
always be Jews. And may God give them the health and the 
strength to live through all the troubles they’re born to . . .” 

The nogid himself, a fine-looking man with a skullcap, 
interrupts me. “What’s your name?” he asks. “Where do you 
hail from? Where do you live now? What do you do for a 
living? Do you have any children? How many?” 

“Children?” I say. “Do I have children? Oh ... if it is 
true that each child were really worth a million, as my Golde 
insists, then I should be richer than the richest man in 
Yehupetz. The only thing wrong with this argument is that 



59 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


we still go to bed hungry. What does the Bible say? ‘The 
world belongs to him who has money.’ It’s the millionaires 
who have the money; all I have is daughters. And as my 
grandmother used to say, ‘If you have enough girls, the whole 
world whirls.’ But I’m not complaining. God is our Father. 
He has His own way. He sits on high, and we struggle down 
below. What do I struggle with? I haul logs, lumber. What 
else should I do? The Talmud is right, ‘If you can’t have 
chicken, herring will do.’ That’s the whole trouble. We still 
have to eat. As my old grandmother—may she rest in peace 
—used to say, ‘If we didn’t have to eat, we'd all be rich.’ ” 

I realized that my tongue was going sideways. “Excuse me, 
please,” I said. “Beware of the wisdom of a fool and the 
proverbs of a drunkard.” 

At this the nogid cries out, “Why doesn’t somebody bring 
something to eat?” And at once the table is filled with every 
kind of food—fish and fowl and roasts, wings and giblets 
and livers galore. 

“Won’t you take something?” they say. “Come on!” 

“A sick person you ask; a healthy person you give,” I say. 
“Thanks, anyway. A little whiskey—granted. But don’t ex¬ 
pect me to sit down and eat a meal like this while there, at 
home, my wife and children . . 

Well, they caught on to what I was driving at, and you 
should have seen them start packing things into my wagon. 
This one brought rolls, that one fish, another one a roast 
chicken, tea, a package of sugar, a pot of chicken fat, a jar 
of preserves. 

“This,” they say, “take home for your wife and children. 
And now tell us how much you’d want us to pay you for all 
you did for us.” 

“How do I know what it was worth?” I answer. “What¬ 
ever you think is right. If it’s a penny more or a penny less 
I’ll still be the same Tevye either way.” 

“No,” they say. “We want you to tell us yourself, Reb 
Tevye. Don’t be afraid. We won’t chop your head off.” 

I think to myself, “What shall I do? This is bad. What if 



Sholom Aleiehem 


60 


I say one ruble when they might be willing to give two? On 
the other hand, if I said two they might think I was crazy. 
What have I done to earn that much?” But my tongue 
slipped and before I knew what I was saying, I cried out, 
‘‘Three rubles!” 

At this the crowd began to laugh so hard that I wished I 
was dead and buried. 

“Excuse me if I said the wrong thing,” I stammered. “A 
horse, which has four feet, stumbles once in a while too, so 
why shouldn’t a man who has but one tongue?” 

The merriment increased. They held their sides laughing. 

“Stop laughing, all of you!” cried the man of the house, 
and from his pocket he took a large purse and from the 
purse pulled out—how much do you think? For instance, 
guess! A ten -ruble note, red as fire! As I live and breathe 
. . . And he says, “This is from me. And now, the rest of 
you, dig into your pockets and give what you think you 
should.” 

Well, what shall I tell you? Fives and threes and ones 
began to fly across the table. My arms and legs trembled. I 
was afraid I was going to faint. 

“Nu, what are you standing there for?” said my host. 
“Gather up the few rubles and go home to your wife and 
children.” 

“May God give you everything you desire ten times over,” 
I babble, sweeping up the money with both hands and 
stuffing it into my pockets. “May you have all that is good, 
may you have nothing but joy. And now,” I said, “good 
night, and good luck, and God be with you. With you and 
your children and grandchildren and all your relatives.” 

But when I turn to go back to the wagon, the mistress of 
the house, the woman with the silk shawl, calls to me, “Wait 
a minute, Reb Tevye. I want to give you something, too. 
Come back tomorrow morning, if all is well. I have a cow 
—a milch cow. It was once a wonderful cow, used to give 
twenty-four glasses of milk a day. But some jealous person 


61 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


must have cast an evil eye on it: you can’t milk it any more. 
That is, you can milk it all right, but nothing comes.” 

“Long may you live!” I answer. “Don’t worry. If you give 
us the cow we’ll not only milk it—we’ll get milk too! My 
wife, Lord bless her, is so resourceful that she makes noodles 
out of almost nothing, adds water and we have noodle soup. 
Every week she performs a miracle: we have food for the 
Sabbath! She has brought up seven children, though often 
she has nothing to give them for supper but a box on the 
ear! . . . Excuse me, please, if I’ve talked too much. Good 
night and good luck and God be with you,” I say, and turn 
around to leave. I come out in the yard, reach for my horse 
—and stop dead! I look everywhere. Not a trace of a horse! 

“Well, Tevye,” I say to myself. “This time they really got 
you!” 

And I recall a story I must have read somewhere, about 
a gang of thieves that once kidnapped a pious and holy man, 
lured him into a palace behind the town, dined him and 
wined him, and then suddenly vanished, leaving him all 
alone with a beautiful woman. But while he looked 
the woman changed into a tigress, and the tigress into a cat, 
the cat into an adder. 

“Watch out, Tevye,” I say to myself. “No telling what 
they’ll do next!” 

“What are you mumbling and grumbling about now?” 
they ask. 

“What am I grumbling about? Woe is me! I’m ruined! 
My poor little horse!” 

“Your horse,” they tell me, “is in the stable.” 

I come into the stable, look around. As true as I’m alive, 
there’s my bony little old nag right next to their aristocratic 
horses, deeply absorbed in feeding. His jaws work feverishly, 
as if this is the last meal he’ll ever have. 

“Look here, my friend,” I say to him. “It’s time to move 
along. It isn’t wise to make a hog of yourself. An extra 
mouthful, and you may be sorry.” 



Sholom Aleiehem 


62 


I finally persuaded him, coaxed him back to his harness, 
and in good spirits we started for home, singing one hymn 
after another. As for the old horse—you would never have 
known him! I didn't even have to whip him. He raced like 
the wind. We came home late, but I woke up my wife with 
a shout of joy. 

“Good evening!” said I. “Congratulations! Mazl-tov, 
Golde!” 

“A black and endless mazl-tov to you!” she answers me. 
“What are you so happy about, my beloved bread-winner? 
Are you coming from a wedding or a bris —a circumcision 
feast—my goldspinner?” 

“A wedding and a bris rolled into one,” I say. “Just wait, 
my wife, and you’ll see the treasure I’ve brought you! But 
first wake up the children. Let them have a taste of the 
Yehupetz delicacies, too!” 

“Are you crazy?” she asks. “Are you insane, or out of 
your head, or just delirious? You sound unbalanced— 
violent!” And she lets me have it—all the curses she knows 
—as only a woman can. 

“Once a wife always a wife,” I tell her. “No wonder King 
Solomon said that among his thousand wives there wasn’t 
one that amounted to anything. It’s lucky that it isn’t the 
custom to have a lot of wives any more!” 

And I go out to the wagon and come back with my arms 
full of all the good things that they had given me. I put it 
all on the table, and when my crew saw the fresh white rolls 
and smelled the meat and fish they fell on it like hungry 
wolves. You should have seen them grab and stuff and 
chew—like the Children of Israel in the desert. The Bible 
says, “And they did eat,” and I could say it, too. Tears came 
to my eyes. 

“Well,” says my helpmate, “tell me—who has decided to 
feed the countryside? What makes you so gay? Who gave 
you the drinks?” 

“Wait, my love,” I say to her. “I’ll tell you everything. But 
first heat up the samovar. Then we’ll all sit around the 



63 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


table, as people should now and then, and have a little tea. 
We live but once, my dear. Let’s celebrate. We are inde¬ 
pendent now. We have a cow that used to be good 
for twenty-four glasses a day. Tomorrow morning, if the 
Lord permits, I’ll bring her home. And look at this, my 
Golde! Look at this!” And I pull out the green and red and 
yellow banknotes from my pockets. “Come, my Golde, 
show us how smart you are! Tell me how much there is 
here!” 

I look across at my wife. She’s dumbfounded. She can’t say 
a word. 

“God protect you, my darling!” I say to her. “What are you 
scared of? Do you think I stole it? I am ashamed of you, 
Golde! You’ve been Tevye’s wife so many years and you 
think that of me! Silly, this is kosher money, earned honestly 
with my own wit and my own labor. I rescued two women 
from a great misfortune. If it were not for me, I don’t know 
what would have become of them.” 

So I told her everything, from a to z. The whole story of 
my wanderings. And we counted the money over and over. 
There were eighteen rubles —for good luck, you know—and 
another eighteen for more good luck, and one besides. In 
all—thirty-seven rubles! 

My wife began to cry. 

“What are you crying for, you foolish woman?” I ask. 

“How can I help crying when my tears won’t stop? When 
your heart is full your eyes run over. May God help me, 
Tevye, my heart told me that you would come with good 
news. I can’t remember when I last saw my Grandmother 
Tzeitl—may she rest in peace—in a dream. But just before 
you came home I was asleep and suddenly I dreamed I 
saw a milkpail full to the brim. My Grandmother Tzeitl was 
carrying it under her apron to shield it from an evil eye, and 

the children were crying, ‘Mama . . 

“Don’t eat up all the noodles before the Sabbath!” I inter¬ 
rupt. “May your Grandmother Tzeitl be happy in Paradise— 
I don’t know how much she can help us right now. Let’s 



Sholom Aleichcm 


64 


leave that to God. He saw to it that we should have a cow 
of our own, so no doubt He can also make her give milk. 
Better give me some advice, Golde. Tell me—what shall we 
do with the money?” 

‘‘That’s right, Tevye,” says she. ‘‘What do you plan to do 
with so much money?” 

‘‘Well, what do you think we can do with it?” I say. 
‘‘Where shall we invest it?” 

And we began to think of this and that, one thing after 
another. We racked our brains, thought of every kind of en¬ 
terprise on earth. That night we were engaged in every type 
of business you could imagine. We bought a pair of horses 
and sold them at a profit; opened a grocery store in Boiberik, 
sold the stock and went into the drygoods business. We 
bought an option on some woodland and made something on 
that, too, then obtained the tax concession at Anatevka, and 
with our earnings began to loan out money on mortgages. 

‘‘Be careful! Don’t be so reckless!” my wife warned me. 
“You’ll throw it all away. Before you know it, you’ll have 
nothing left but your whip!” 

“What do you want me to do?” I ask. “Deal in grain and 
lose it all? Look what’s happening right now in the wheat 
market. Go! See what’s going on in Odessa!” 

“What do I care about Odessa? My great-grandfather was 
never there, and so long as I’m alive and have my senses, 
my children will never be there, either!” 

“Then what do you want?” 

“What do I want? I want you to have some brains and 
not act like a fool.” 

“So you’re the brainy one! You get a few rubles in your 
hand and suddenly you’re wise. That’s what always happens.” 

Well, we disagreed a few times, fell out, had some argu¬ 
ments, but in the end this is what we decided: to buy an¬ 
other cow—in addition to the one we were getting for noth¬ 
ing. A cow that would really give milk. 

Maybe you’ll say, “Why a cow?” And I’ll answer, “Why 
not a cow?" Here we are, so close to Boiberik, where all the 


65 


Tevye Wins a Fortune 


rich people of Yehupetz come to spend the summer at 
their datchas. They’re so refined that they expect everything 
to be brought to them on a platter—meat and eggs, chickens, 
onions, pepper, parsnips—everything. Why shouldn't there 
be someone who would be willing to come right to their 
kitchen door every morning with cheese and butter and 
cream? Especially since the Yehupetzers believe in eating 
well and are ready to pay? 

The main thing is that what you bring must be good—the 
cream must be thick, the butter golden. And where will you 
find cream and butter that’s better than mine? 

So we make a living . . . May the two of us be blessed 
by the Lord as often as I am stopped on the road by im¬ 
portant people from Yehupet2—even Russians—who beg 
me to bring them what I can spare. “We have heard, Tevel, 
that you are an upright man, even if you are a Jewish dog 
. . Now, how often does a person get a compliment like 
that? Do our own people ever praise a man? No! All they 
do is envy him. 

When they saw that Tevye had an extra cow, a new 
wagon, they began to rack their brains. “Where did he get 
it? How did he get it? Maybe he’s a counterfeiter. Maybe he 
cooks alcohol in secret.” 

I let them worry. “Scratch your heads and rack your brains, 
my friends! Break your heads if you begrudge me my small 
living.” 

I don’t know if you’ll believe my story. You’re almost the 

first person I’ve ever told it to. 

But I’m afraid I’ve said too much already. If so, forgive 
me! I forgot that we all have work to do. As the Bible says, 
“Let the shoemaker stick to his last.” You to your books, 
Mr. Sholom Aleichem, and I to my pots and jugs . . . 

One thing I beg of you. Don’t put me into one of your 
books, and if you do put me in, at least don’t tell them my 

real name. 

Be well and happy always. 



A PAGE FROM T 
SONG OF SONGS 



Buzie is a name. It is a diminutive of Esther-Libbe. First 
Esther-Libbe, then Libuzie, then Buzie. She is a year older 
than I, or maybe two years, and together we are not quite 
twenty years old. Now, I ask you, how old am I and how old 
is she? But that is not important. Instead let me give you a 
short sketch of her life. 

My older brother Benny lived in a village, where he 
owned a mill. He was a wonder at shooting, riding and 
swimming. One summer day while bathing in the river, he 
drowned. Thus the old adage that the best swimmers drown 
was borne out. He left the mill, two horses, a young widow 
and a child. The mill was abandoned, the horses were sold, 
the widow remarried and moved to some distant place, and 
the child was brought to us. 

That child was Buzie. 

That my father should love Buzie as his own is easy to un¬ 
derstand, and that my mother should watch over her like an 
only daughter is natural. In her they found a comfort for 
their great sorrow. But that has nothing to do with me. 
Then why is it that when I come from cheder and find 
Buzie not at home my food is flat and tasteless? And why is 
it that when Buzie comes in the darkest corners are suddenly 


67 


A Page from the Song of Songs 


lit up? And why is it that when Buzie speaks to me I drop 
my eyes? And when Buzie laughs at me I weep? 

And when Buzie . . . 

All through the winter I had been looking forward to the 
Passover holidays. Then I would be free from cheder, free to 
play with Buzie, free to run outdoors with her. We would 
run down the hill to the river’s edge, where I could show 
her how the ducklings learn to swim. When I try to tell her 
about it she only laughs at me. Buzie doesn’t believe a thing 
I tell her. She doesn’t believe that I can climb to the top of 
the highest tree—if I only wanted to. She doesn’t believe 
that I can shoot—if I only had a gun to shoot with. She 
never says she doesn't believe, she only laughs at me. And I 
hate nothing more than to be laughed at. But when Passover 
comes, the beautiful, free days of Passover, when we can run 
outdoors away from the watchful eyes of my parents, then I 
will show her such wonders that they will take her breath 
away. 

The wonderful time, the most joyous time of the year, has 
come. 

Buzie and I are dressed in our holiday clothes. Everything 
we have on twinkles and shines and crackles. I look at Buzie 
and I am reminded of the Song of Songs which I studied 
before Passover with my rabbi. Verse after verse, it comes 
back to me: 

“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, thou art fair; thy eyes 
are as doves, thy hair is a flock of goats that comes down 
from Mount Gilead. 

‘Thy teeth are like a flock of white lambs that come up 
from the river, all are alike; the same mother bore them. 

“Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet; thy speech is full of 
sweetness.” 

Why is it that when you look at Buzie you are reminded 
of the Song of Songs? Why is it that when you study the 
Song of Songs Buzie comes into your thoughts? 

We are ready to go. I can hardly stand still. My pockets 
are full of nuts. My mother gave us all we wanted. She filled 



Sholom Aleichem 


68 


our pockets and told us we could play with them to our 
hearts’ content. But she made us promise not to crack any 
before Passover. 

“Are you ready?” says Buzie. 

I jump for the door. Away we go. The nuts make a drum¬ 
ming sound, they rattle as we run. At first we are dazzled 
by the brilliance outside. The sun is high up already; it is 
looking down on the other side of town. The air is free and 
fresh, soft and clear. Here and there on the hill beyond the 
synagogue there sprouts the first grass of spring, tender, 
quivering, green . . . With a scream and a flutter of wings a 
straight line of swallows flies over our heads and again I am 
reminded of the Song of Songs: “The flowers appear on the 
earth; the time of the song of birds has come and the voice 
of the turtle is heard in our land.” 

I feel strangely light. It seems to me that I have wings. 
Any minute now I will rise into the air and fly. 

From the town strange sounds arise—a roaring, a boiling, 
a seething. It is the day before Passover, a rare and wonder¬ 
ful day. In one instant the world is transformed. Our yard is 
a king’s court. Our house is a palace. I am a prince and 
Buzie is a princess. The logs of wood piled about our door 
are the cedars and cypresses that are mentioned in the Song 
of Songs. The cat that lies near the door warming herself in 
the sun is a roe or a young hart that is mentioned in the 
Song of Songs. The women and the girls who are working 
outdoors, washing and cleaning and getting ready for the 
Passover are the daughters of Jerusalem mentioned in the 
Song of Songs. Everything, everything is from the Song of 
Songs. 

I walk about with my hands in my pockets and the nuts 
rattle. Buzie follows me step by step. I cannot walk slowly, 
I am treading on air. I want to fly, to swoop, to soar, like an 
eagle. I start running and Buzie runs after me. I leap onto 
the pile of logs and jump from one log to another. Buzie 
jumps after me. I jump up, she jumps up; I jump down, 
she jumps down. Who will get tired first? I guessed it. 



69 A Page from the Song of Songs 

“How-long-will-you-keep-it-up?” asks Buzie all out of 
breath. 

And I answer her in the words of the Song of Songs: 

“ ‘Till the morning breeze come and the shadows flee 
away.’ There! You are tired and I am not!” 

I feel proud that Buzie cannot keep up with me. I gloat 
over her and at the same time I am sorry for her. My heart 
aches for her, because I imagine she is unhappy. That is 
Buzie—full of gaiety one moment, and the next she is hid¬ 
ing in a corner, quietly weeping. At times like these noth¬ 
ing helps. No matter how much my mother tries to com¬ 
fort her, how much my father caresses her, she continues 
to cry. For whom does she cry? For her father who 
died when she was a baby? For her mother who married and 
went off without as much as a goodbye? Ah, that mother 
of hers. When you mention her mother her face turns 
fiery red, as though she were ashamed of her. She never says 
an unkind word about her, but she looks unhappy. I cannot 
bear to see Buzie looking so wretched. I sit near her on the 
logs and try to distract her thoughts. 

Rolling a few nuts about, I start: 

“Guess what I could do if I wanted to.” 

“What could you do?” 

“If I wanted to, all your nuts would be mine.” 

“Would you win them away from me?” 

“No. We wouldn’t even start playing.” 

“Well then, would you take them away from me?” 

“No. They would come to me by themselves.” 

She raises her eyes to me, her blue eyes, eyes straight out 

of the Song of Songs. I say, “You think I am joking. Well, 

I know a certain language, I know some magic words 
>» 

• • • 

She opens her eyes wider. I explain, feeling grown and 
important, all puffed up with pride. “We boys know a lot of 
things. There is a boy in cheder, Shaike, who is blind in 
one eye—he knows everything. He even knows Kabala. Do 

you know what Kabala is?” 



Sholom Aleichem 


70 


“No. How should I know?” 

I am suddenly lifted to the seventh heaven because I can 
give her a lesson in Kabala. 

“ Kabala, silly, is a useful thing. By means of Kabala I can 
make myself invisible. With Kabala I can draw wine from a 
stone and gold from a wall. With the help of Kabala 
you and I, just as we are sitting here, could rise to the clouds 
and above the clouds . . 

To fly up to the clouds with Buzie and above the clouds, 
and fly away with her, far, far off over the ocean—that has 
been one of my fondest dreams. There, beyond the ocean, 
begins the land of the dwarfs who are descended from King 
David’s time. These dwarfs are kindly little people who live 
on sweets and almond milk, play all day long on little flutes 
and dance in a ring, are afraid of nothing and are kind to 
strangers. When someone arrives from our world they give 
him food and drink and shower him with costly garments 
and gold and silver ornaments and before he leaves they 
fill his pockets with diamonds and jewels which lie about 
in their streets as trash docs in ours. 

“Really? Like trash in the streets?” asked Buzie, wonder- 
ingly, when I once told her about the dwarfs. 

“Don’t you believe it?” 

“Do you?” 

“Why shouldn’t I?” 

“Where did you hear about it?” 

“In cheder, of course.” 

“Oh, in cheder !” 

Lower and lower sinks the sun, painting the sky a fiery 

gold. . . . The gold is reflected in Buzie’s eyes. They swim 
in molten gold. 

I want very badly to impress Buzie with Shaike’s ability 
and with the wonders I can perform by means of Kabala. 
But Buzie won’t be impressed. Instead she laughs at me. She 
looks at me with her mouth half-open and all her pearly 
teeth showing, and laughs. 



71 


A Page from the Song of Songs 


Annoyed, I ask, “Don’t you believe me?” 

Buzie laughs again. 

“You think I am boasting. That I am making up lies.” 

Buzie laughs harder. I have to repay her for this. I know 
how, too. 

“The trouble with you is that you don’t know what Kabala 
is. If you knew, you wouldn’t laugh. By means of Kabala, if 
I wanted to, I could bring your mother down here. Yes, I 
can. And if you begged me very hard I could bring her 
tonight, riding on a broomstick.” 

At once she stops laughing. A cloud crosses her lovely, 
bright face and it seems to me that the sun has suddenly 
disappeared and the day is done. I have gone too far. I have 
wounded her tenderest feelings. I am sorry I had ever started 
this. How can I make up to her now? I move closer to her. 
She turns away from me. I want to take her hand and speak 
to her with the words of the Song of Songs: “Return, re¬ 
turn O Shulamite, turn back to me, Buzie . . 

Suddenly a voice calls out, “Shimek. Shimek!” 

Shimek—that’s me. My mother is calling me, to go to the 
synagogue with my father. 

To go with Father to the synagogue on the Eve of 
Passover is one of the pleasures of life. Just to be dressed 
in perfectly new clothes from head to foot and to show off 
before one’s friends. And the services—the first evening 
prayer, the first benediction of the holiday season! What de¬ 
lights the Lord has provided for his Jewish children. 

“Shimek! Shimek!” 

My mother is in a hurry. “I am coming! I am coming 
right away, I just have to tell Buzie something, just one little 

thing!” 

I tell her just one thing. That what I told her was not true. 
To make other people fly by means of Kabala is impossible. 
But I myself—I can fly, and I will show her right after the 
holidays. I will make my first attempt then. I will rise up 
here from these very logs where we are now sitting, and in 



Sholom Aleichem 


72 


one moment I will be above the clouds. From there I will 
turn to the right—there, see—there where everything ends 
and the Frozen Sea begins . . . 

Buzie listens, absorbed in my story. The sun, about to 
sink, sends its last rays to kiss the earth. 

“What,” asks Buzie, “do you mean by the Frozen Sea?” 

“Don’t you know what the Frozen Sea is? That’s far in the 
north. The water is as thick as jelly and as salty as brine. 
Ships cannot go there, and people who are caught in it never 
return.” 

Buzie looks at me wide-eyed. “Then why are you going 
there?” 

“Am I going to touch the sea, you silly thing? I’ll fly high 
up over it, like an eagle, and in a few minutes I shall be on 
dry land. That is where the twelve high mountains begin that 
belch fire and smoke. I shall stop on the tip of the twelfth 
mountain and walk from there for seven miles till I come 
to a thick forest. I will cross several forests till I come to a 
small lake. I shall swim across the lake and count seven 
times seven. Out of the ground will spring a dwarf with a 
long white beard. He will say to me, ‘What is your wish?’ 

“And I will say to him: ‘Lead me to the Queen’s 
daughter!’ ” 

“Which Queen’s daughter?” asks Buzie, startled. 

“The Queen’s daughter,” I explain, “is the beautiful 
princess who was snatched away from under the wedding 
canopy, bewitched, and carried far, far away and locked up 
in a crystal palace for seven years . . 

“What is she to you?” 

“What do you mean—what is she to me? I have to set her 
free, don’t I?” 

“You have to set her free?” 

“Who, then?” 

“You don’t have to fly so far, believe me. You don’t have 
to fly so far,” says Buzie, and takes my hand. Her small, 
white hand is cold. I look into her eyes and see in them the 
last faint reflection of the gold that is draining from the sky. 



73 


A Page from the Song of Songs 


Slowly the day is going, the first beautiful day of spring 
is passing away. Like a spent candle the sun goes down. The 
noises that we heard all day are dying too. There is hardly 
a person to be seen in the street. From the windows of the 
houses there wink the flames of candles lit for Pass- 
over Eve. A strange, a holy stillness surrounds us, and Buzie 
and I feel ourselves slowly merging with this stillness. 
“Shimek! Shimek!” 

This is the third time my mother has called me. As if I 
didn’t know myself that I had to go to the synagogue! I’ll 
stay only another minute, not more than a minute. But 
Buzie hears her too, pulls her hand out of mine, jumps to 

her feet and begins to push me. 

“Shimek, your mother is calling you. You’d better go. It’s 

late. Go.” 

I am getting ready to go. The day is done, the sun has 
been snuffed out. All the gold has turned to blood. A cool 
breeze has sprung up. Buzie keeps pushing me toward the 
house. I throw a last quick look at her. Her face has changed 
and it has a different, an unearthly beauty in the twilight. 
The thought of the bewitched princess flits through my 
head. But Buzie won’t allow those thoughts. She keeps push¬ 
ing me ahead. I start slowly to go and I look back just once 
at the bewitched princess who has now completely merged 
with the weird Passover twilight, and I stand rooted in 
one spot. But she waves her hand at me, bidding me to go, 
to go quickly. And it seems to me that I hear her speaking 

in the words of the Song of Songs: 

“Make haste, my beloved, be thou like a gazelle or a young 

hart upon the mountain of spices.” 



TWO DEAD MEN 


(A Tale for Purim) 


You may think this is a strange title for a Purim tale; Purim 
■—when it is fitting and proper for a Jew to act the drunkard 
and a storyteller to play the fool! Reader, I know that to¬ 
day is Purim and you are supposed to act the drunkard and 
I the fool; and nevertheless I’ll give you a story about two 
dead men. That’s final. All I can do for you is give you this 
advice: if your nerves are weak, don’t read this tale before 
going to sleep. 


1 

Chlavne, a short, dark, heavy-set man, had always loved a 
drink. Fortunately he was brought up in a decent and tem¬ 
perate home, or he would surely have grown up a drunkard. 
I do not guarantee that it was only his upbringing that saved 
him from a drunkard’s fate. It is possible that in spite of 
that he might have been able to outdrink a squad of can¬ 
noneers, if only he had the means. But his wife Gittel man¬ 
aged all his finances and did not let him have a groschen 
to spend. Wherever money was involved Gittel took care of 
it. The work itself, the labor that earned their bread, 
was done by Chlavne (he was, alas, a shoemaker), but when 



75 


Two Dead Men 


the work was finished it was Gittel who delivered it and 
collected the money. And naturally Chlavne w-as not pleased 
with this state of affairs. 

“What do you think I am? A thief—or what?” 

That is what Chlavne said to his wife Gittel, and he re¬ 
ceived a clear, unequivocal answ'er on the spot. 

“Heaven forbid! Who said you were a thief? All you are 
is a soak. Do you dare tell me you aren’t?” 

To deny it outright was not easy. And yet to go ahead 
and confess that he loved to take the bitter drop was not so 
agreeable either. So he took refuge in a pun, as he fre¬ 
quently did, because Chlavne the shoemaker was fond not 
only of a glass of brandy, but also of a quip, a pun, a pithy 
saying, for he was a true Kasrilevkite. So he scratched his 
beard, looked up at the ceiling, and said: 

“Listen to the woman! All she can say is soak. Soak! If 1 
have a bottle in my hand, do I ever soak anybody with it? 
All I do is drink it.” 

“Oh, go to the devil!” his wife sputtered. 

“Together with you, beloved, I’d go through the fires of 
hell.” 

“Here, go with this!” cried Gittel, and from the other 
side of the room she heaved a boot at him. This, too, Chlavne 
caught w'ith a laugh, and he replied with a quip, as always. 

And what did he do when Gittel came home with some 
money, and handed him a few groschen to go buy thread 
and wax and brushes? He became soft as butter and sweet 
as honey. And his respect for women in general and Gittel 
in particular rose immediately. He stroked his high, white 
forehead (all shoemakers have high, white foreheads) and 
mused thoughtfully, philosophically: 

“I can’t understand what a wise man like King Solomon 
had against you women. Do you know what King Solomon 

said about women? Or don’t you?” 

‘‘Who cares what King Solomon said? You go to the 
market for thread and wax and brushes. And see that you 
don’t lose your way in some tavern.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


76 


At this far-fetched idea, Chlavne burst out laughing. 

“Next you'll be telling me not to wear my heavy mittens 
in July, or eat matzo on Yorn Kippur! Which way is the 
market place and which way are the taverns? And besides, 
who would think, in the middle of the week, on a working 
day, of going off for a drink?” 

But even while he was talking he was counting the money 
Gittel had given him by transferring it, coin by coin, from 
one hand to the other, and looking philosophically up at the 
ceiling with one eye closed, was figuring out exactly how 
much he would need for thread, how much for wax, and 
how much for brushes. And with a deep, deep sigh he 
quietly went out of the house, and straight to the tavern. 


2 

Who was that wise man, that sage, who after deep thought 
announced that on Purim all drunkards are sober? I doubt if 
he knew what he was talking about. Why should a drunkard 
miss his chance on a day when it is fitting and proper for 
everybody to get drunk as a lord? The first to protest against 
a notion like that would have been Chlvane the shoemaker. 
How eagerly he awaited that one day! What agony he suf¬ 
fered before it came! And when it finally arrived he went to 
the synagogue with everybody else, to settle his account with 
Haman and hang him up on a gallows fifty ells high to¬ 
gether with his ten sons. And afterwards, instead of going 
home to taste the festive hamantash he stopped off for a 
while at the homes of one or two of his shoemaker friends, 
old comrades of the bottle, for a holiday toast. “May the 
good Lord spare Haman and his ten sons for another year so 
we can get together next Purim and hang them again on 

a fifty-ell gallows and take another drink in their honor. 
Amen.” 

And after this series of toasts our hero became so foggy 
that no matter how far he went, no matter how many corners 


77 


Two Dead Men 


he turned, he was unable to find his way home. It began to 
look as if the street in which he lived had decided to play 
hide-and-go-seek with him. There it was in front of him, 
winking to him with all the flickering candles in all the 
small windows, and when he took another step he found 
himself bumping his forehead into a wall. Where did the 
wall come from? As long as he could remember, there had 
never been a wall here in the middle of the street. Someone 
must have put up a woodshed here. Imagine the impudence 
—building woodsheds right in the middle of the street! 
Who would dare do a thing like that? It must have been 
Yossi the nogid's doings. But he’d never get away with it! 

“As sure as my name is Ahasuerus, King of Persia!” 
cried Chlavne, and he reached up both hands to tear down 
the wall that Yossi the nog id had dared to build right in the 
middle of the street. But just then the wall moved away, 
Chlavne lost his balance, and stretched himself out like a 
baron, full length in the famous Kasrilevka mud. 

And there let us leave him for a while, till we have intro¬ 
duced you to the second hero of our tale, a man who was 
known in our town by the glorious and opulent name of— 


Rothschild. 

yTllT'.ryr 


• •* o *oot 


2M1 h 



He was given the name of Rothschild in Kasrilevka ob¬ 
viously because he was the poorest man in town. Though 
poor people were as numerous in Kasrilevka as the stars in 
heaven, a pauper as completely wretched and miserable as 
he could not be duplicated even there. There is a proverb 
(it must have originated in Kasrilevka) that it takes a spe¬ 
cial kind of luck to be that unlucky. And as you know, 
every proverb is founded on truth. 

Who this man Rothschild was and where he came from I 
cannot tell you. He was a pauper—that much you know 
already. And his occupation was—walking. And I don t 



{l - te* 1 




Sholom Aleichem 


78 


mean walking from house to house, asking for alms. His 
walking was aimless. All day long he walked through the 
deep mud, with short, quick strides like a very busy man in 
a great hurry. He paused only when somebody stopped him. 

"Greetings. And where are you going, Mr. Rothschild?” 

Rothschild stopped, wiped the sweat off his forehead with 
his sleeve, looked with strangely frightened eyes at the per¬ 
son who spoke to him and his thin, yellow, hungry face 
wrinkled up into a sort of smile, as he answered so softly 
that he could barely be heard: 

"Nowhere. I keep going . . . Maybe the good Lord will 
send something my way.” 

And having explained all this, he resumed his march with 
short, rapid strides. And the person who had stopped him 
remained standing a while looking after him, then shrugged 
his shoulders, spit into the mud, and laughed. 

"There is a shlimazl for you!” 

As long as this poor man had been known as Rothschild 


no one in Kasrilevka had ever seen him approach anyone 
with a plea for food, a request for drink or lodging, although 
every one knew very well that he was always hungry and 
had no ^lac^ to lay his head. In Kasrilevka, there are experi¬ 
ence^' a3tU)®ies on the subject of hunger, one might 
even say specialists. On the darkest night, simply by hear¬ 
ing your voice, they can tell if you are simply hungry and 
would like a bite to eat, or if you are really starving. No 
doubt they have their symptoms to judge by, like doctors 
who prod you here and there and can tell if you are slightly 
indisposed or if you are on the verge of giving up your 
ghost. 


If we are to distinguish between the various degrees of 
hunger, between those who are simply hungry and those who 
are dead hungry, we must say without hesitation that our 
hero Rothschild was in the rank of the dead hungry. He was 
a man who frequently went along for days on end with 
nothing at all in his mouth. And more than once he would 
surely have passed out right on the broad highway if some 



79 


Two Dead Men 


kind soul had not of his own accord noticed that here was 
that unfortunate wretch, Rothschild. If you gave him some¬ 
thing he did not refuse it, but if you asked him if he was 
hungry he never answered. And if you asked if he was very 
hungry he still did not answer, but his yellow, emaciated face 
wrinkled up into something like a smile and his frightened 
eyes looked down, apparently ashamed that a person could 
ever be as hungry as he was, and a weak little sigh stole out 
unwillingly. And who knows what that sigh meant? 

The Kasrilevkites, who loved a jest, gave him something 
to eat first, but afterwards could not refrain from teasing 
him. 

“Mr. Rothschild, tell us the truth. How many millions do 
you have and where do you hide them all?” 

Rothschild lowered his frightened eyes, wrinkled his 
starved, waxen features, smiled weakly and said nothing. 

And younger wags, who had no respect for anyone, came 
close to him, pulled at his sleeve. 

‘‘Well, well! The great M'sieu Rothschild himself! And 

how are things on the Paris Bourse?” 

Again Rothschild lowered his eyes. What was there 

to say? 

Even the youngest of the lot, little school children, not 
much more than toddlers, did not let him pass. They made 
up a song about him: 

Rothschild is a gentleman 
Rolling in riches. 

There’s nothing he lacks 
But a pair of britches. 

He was especially afraid of these little children and he 
ran away from them with his short quick strides. The chil¬ 
dren ran after him, they would not stop singing. And hear¬ 
ing them, their parents shouted: 

‘‘Go away, you scamps, you scoundrels! Go back to cheder! 

Go back to school, you tramps!” 

It is possible that there would have been plenty of people 



Sholom 


80 


in Kasrilevka to look after him and he would not have had 
to hunger at all. But who is to blame if this penniless wretch 
would rather die than hold out his hand for help? And be¬ 
sides, is Kasrilevka expected to support every pauper who 
comes her way? Do not the people have troubles and heart¬ 
aches and anxieties enough of their own in their struggle for 
a livelihood? They thank the Lord that they are able to 
survive the day and live through the week with their wives 
and children. 

And yet—let the truth be known—when the Holy Sab¬ 
bath came around, Rothschild was provided for. All Kasril¬ 
evka was in the synagogue that day, and Rothschild was in 
front of their eyes. And seeing him there, would the people 
let him go hungry—on the Sabbath? After all, an extra per¬ 
son at the table means only that you lay another spoon. So 
one family or another would take him home. And if the 
feast was not so rich it was no tragedy. His stomach was 
tolerant. At least he sat at a table with other Jews. In front 
of them were a few slices of Sabbath bread, some fish bones 
and the brass candlesticks from the night before. All these 
things, taken together with the singing and chanting after 
the meal, had such an attraction for him that he was ready to 
forget all the fine dishes, the appetizers and the desserts that 
human fancy has invented in order to lure us and lead us 
more deeply into Gehenna. 

Great is the power of the Holy Sabbath! On that day you 
would scarcely recognize the householder of Kasrilevka, or 
his guest, the derelict Rothschild. 


4 

Having fasted the whole day according to custom, the good 
householders of Kasrilevka finally saw the sun sinking and 
hastened to the synagogue to celebrate the Purim services, to 
chant the Book of Esther and take revenge on Haman. And 
having hurried through the final prayers standing on one foot. 


81 


Two Dead Men 


the hungry Kasrilevkites rushed out in a body the quicker to 
come home and the quicker to break the fast, each one 
under his own grapevine and his own fig tree, with a fresh, 
warm hamantash full of poppy seed. And in their great haste 
and desire to partake of food they completely forgot about 
Rothschild, as if there had never been a Rothschild in the 
whole world. And Rothschild, seeing that everyone was 
hurrying, hurried off too, with his short strides, over the 
muddy roads and alleys of the blessed Kasrilevka, without 

knowing where he was going. 

Running past the half-fallen and dimly lighted shacks and 
cottages, from time to time our hungry hero stole a 
glance through a window and saw cheeks and jaws and 
necks, chewing and grinding and swallowing. What the bulg¬ 
ing cheeks enclosed, what the jaws were grinding and the 
necks were swallowing, he could not see, but he felt fairly 
certain that it must be those sweet and fresh and wonderful 
triangular hamantashen, stuffed with honeyed poppy seed 
that melted in your mouth and tasted like something in 
Eden. And something woke inside of Rothschild and pulled 
at his heart and said to him, “Fool, why do you wander 
around in the darkness? Open one of those doors, go into 
the house and say, ‘Good evening and a happy Purim. 
Do you have something that a person can break his fast 
with? It is the third day now since I have eaten anything.’ ” 
And Rothschild became frightened by his boldness. Such a 
thought had never come to him before—to force his way 
into a stranger’s house like a thief! And lest his Evil Spirit 
take hold of him again he turned from the houses directly 
into the middle of the road where the mud was deepest, and 
in the darkness collided with something soft and broad and 
alive, and before he could regain his balance fell headlong 
over our hero number one—Chlavne the shoemaker. 

Let us leave our Rothschild alone for a while and find out 
how Chlavne the shoemaker was doing. 



Sholom Aleichem 


82 


5 

Chlavne the shoemaker (we beg his pardon a hundred times 
for letting him lie in the mud so long) did not feel nearly 
as wretched in his new surroundings as the reader would 
imagine. It is an old-established trait of man to adapt him¬ 
self to his surroundings, no matter how unfavorable they 
might be. As soon as he found that before resuming his 
journey he was destined to pause a while in this bed of mud, 
the famous Kasrilevka mud, he saw to it that he did it like 
a man, productively, and not idly and wastefully. Without 
rest and without pause he proceeded to pour his wrath out 
on the wealthy of the earth, and especially on Yossi the 
nogid. Did Yossi think that he, Chlavne, was drunk? He 
swore on his honor that he was not. Who could have started 
that rumor that he, Chlavne, was a drunkard? It must have 
been that wife of his, Vashti. 

And having said the name Vashti, Chlavne the shoemaker 
became silent and thoughtful. This name—Vashti—came 
back to his mind again and again like nails being hammered 
into a shoe. He remembered quite clearly that his wife’s 
name used to be Gittel—and now suddenly it was Vashti! 
How did that happen? Gittel—Vashti? And it was not only 
her name. Everything else about her was changed, too. She 
was dressed like a queen with a golden crown, and every¬ 
thing she wore from head to foot was gold. He decided 
that this was not the time to start a fight with her. With a 
beauty like that you made your peace. And he pulled him¬ 
self through the mud, closer and closer to her; but she drew 
away. She spurned him. Apparently because of his other pas¬ 
sion, drink. The devil take her! She was too proud to have 
people think that her husband was a drunkard! 

“May I never live to get up from this spot if I ever let 
another drop of brandy touch my lips!” he swore. “Do you 
hear, Vashti? If you don’t believe me, here is my hand. I 
promise . . 


83 


Two Dead Men 


And Chlavne stretched out his thick, blackened hand with 
its stubby black fingers in the mud—and he was surprised 
to find that Vashti’s hand was wet and cold and Vashti’s 
fingers were damp and slippery. It was impossible to put 
one’s arms around a woman like that. And once more he 
held out his arms, and embraced—the bony, shivering body 
of the unhappy Rothschild. 


6 

Philosophers tell you that many things can happen as a re¬ 
sult of a shock. A woman can have a miscarriage because of 
a sudden fright. If the shock is great enough a person can go 
out of his mind, and in some cases—Heaven forbid!—it has 
even been suggested that it was possible for a drunkard to 
become suddenly sober. So say the philosophers. And there¬ 
fore we should not be too much surprised to learn that as 
soon as our hero, Chlavne the shoemaker, had embraced the 
unfortunate Rothschild, he too became sober. That is, not 
entirely sober, not sober enough to pick himself out of the 
mud and stand like a man, but enough to make him regain 
his senses one by one. First of all, through his sense of touch, 
he became aware that Vashti was a man with a beard. Then, 
with the return of his sense of hearing, he made out these 
words distinctly: “Shma Yisroel! Help! Help! Save me!” 
Through his sense of sight he became aware that the two of 
them were lying in the mud, in the thick, suffocating Kasril- 
evka mud. But try as he might, he could not distinguish the 
person who was in his arms, for just then the moon had 
hidden behind a thick cloud and the dark night had spread 
its sable wings over all of Kasrilevka. 

Rothschild too began slowly to collect his thoughts. His 
deathly fear gradually disappeared, and together our heroes 
recovered their speech. And what they said shall now be re¬ 
peated, word for word: 

Chlavne: Who are you? 



Sholom Aleichem 


84 


Rothschild: It’s me. 

Chlavne: What are you doing here? 

Rothschild: Not a thing. 

Chlavne: How the devil did you get here? 

Rothschild: I don’t know. 

Chlavne: Don’t you know anything at all? What are you? 
One of us? A shoemaker? 

Rothschild: No. 

Chlavne: What then? A businessman? 

Rothschild: Oh, no! No! 

Chlavne: Then what on earth are you? Do you know? 
What are you? 

Rothschild: I’m . . . I’m . . . dead . . . hungry . . . 

Chlavne: So that’s the story! You’re dead hungry, and I’m 
dead drunk. But wait! If I’m not mistaken, aren’t you Mr. 
Rothschild? Of course. I knew you at once. If that’s the 
case. Brother Rothschild, maybe it would be a good idea if 
you helped me crawl out of this mud, and then if you are 
strong enough the two of us can go to my house and have a 
bite to eat. Something tells me that there is some sort of 
holiday being celebrated today. Simchas-Torah? Purim? I’m 
not sure which, but I know it’s a holiday. If all the kings of 
the east and west insisted that it wasn’t, I’d . . . I’d spit in 
their faces! 

It took a little while before the two of them managed to 
drag themselves out of the mud, and with great effort they 
started on their way, each one holding on to the other. That 
is, Rothschild was doing his best to keep Chlavne upright, 
because so far only the shoemaker’s head had sobered up. His 
feet still went this way and that. And when they came 
to . . . 

But at this point let us leave both of our heroes, and let us 
glance for a moment into the home of Chlavne the shoe¬ 
maker, to see how his wife Gittel was getting along. 


85 


Two Dead Men 


7 

No matter how much she may be criticized by cynics, no mat¬ 
ter how much the humorists may joke about her, a wife is 
still a wife. As soon as it was dark, Gittel began to get 
things ready for her husband who ought to be coming home 
soon from the synagogue after his long day of fasting. In his 
behalf she spread a festive tablecloth and brought out those 
things that Chlavne loved so well—a bottle and a glass. It is 
possible that the bottle held no more than a single glassful, 
or perhaps in recognition of the holiday enough for two 
glasses. On the other hand, the hamantash which she 
placed on the table was a huge one. It was a giant of a 
hamantash, rich and golden, with honeyed poppy seed ooz¬ 
ing out of its three corners. It cried aloud to be eaten. You 
could almost hear it plead: “Chlavne, where are you? 
Chlavne, come eat me!” But Chlavne did not hear. At that 
moment he was sitting with the other shoemakers pouring 
long drinks in honor of the holy Purim. 

In vain did the shoemaker’s wife look out of the window, 
in vain did she listen for a sound at the door. Every step she 
heard outside sounded like Chlavne’s. But Chlavne was not 
walking just then. Chlavne was stretched out in the deep 
mud, whispering to Vashti. Gittel thought all the thoughts 
that a wife could ever think about her husband, but when it 
became really late she tore her jacket off its hook, threw it 
over her shoulders, and went out to search for Chlavne. She 
did not find him. The shoemakers with whom he had 
stopped to take a few drinks in honor of the holiday swore 
that they hoped they would not live till next ‘Purim if 
Chlavne had not hurried straight home from the synagogue. 
And they swore that not one of them had so much as 
touched a single drop that evening. That is, unless—so said 
the shoemakers—he had met up somewhere with Shimen- 
Wolf . . . 

At the mention of this name Gittel very noticeably trem- 



Sholom Aleichem 


86 


bled. This man, this Shimen-Wolf, was responsible for so 
many of her troubles . . . 

Shimen-Wolf was also a shoemaker, and his greatest pas¬ 
sion was the same as her husband’s. But how could you com¬ 
pare Chlavne to him? He was notorious throughout that 
part of the country—he was known by only one name— 
Shimen-Wolf the Drunkard. The story is that he inherited 
this trait from his father, who had died of drink. One holiday 
long ago he drank so much that he caught fire inside and 
was burned to death. This had happened to Shimen-Wolf, 
too, on one occasion, but they had put out the fire in time 
and he was saved. Gittel could not believe that her husband 
had gone off with this drunkard. After all, he had given 
her his hand and sworn on his pair of t fill in that as long as 
he lived he would never have anything to do with Shimen- 
Wolf. Because she had insisted on this oath a feud had 
broken out at the time between Chlavne’s Gittel and Shimen- 
Wolf's Hanna-Zissel. The feud had started with plain words 
which led to taunts and ended with something not at all 
pleasant to narrate: the two women became tangled up in 
each other’s hair, and it was with the greatest difficulty that 
they were pulled apart alive. Since then they had not spoken 
to each other, and when they met somewhere by accident 
they stepped to the side of the road and spit three times, as 
one did when one encountered an evil spirit. 

Gittel did not know what to do. Should she go to that 
shrew Hanna-Zissel to find out about her husband, or 
shouldn’t she? She was afraid a new scandal might come of 
it. But the Lord himself came to her aid. Before she had 
time to move one way or the other she saw someone draped 
in black coming her way. She looked closer in the darkness 
and saw that it was Hanna-Zissel. Both women were ready 
to spring to the side of the road and spit three times, as 
always, but some strange power took hold of them and 
they began to talk. The conversation was short but to the 
point: 

“What are you doing out here so late?” 



87 


Two Dead Men 


“And what are you doing?” 

“I’m looking for my husband.” 

“So am I.” 

“Where can they be?” 

“I wish I knew.” 

“Mine was at the synagogue just a while ago.” 

“So was mine.” 

“Maybe they went somewhere together.” 

“It looks like it.” 

And both women let out a deep sigh, and continued on 
their way, one this way, the other that . . . 


8 

Sad and dejected, Gittel came home again, glanced at the 
hamantash on the table, and it seemed to her that the harn- 
antash looked back at her and said: “What’s the matter with 
Chlavne?” In her grief she threw herself on the bed and lay 
there so long that she fell asleep. She dreamt that someone 
knocked on the window and called her by name. Without 
moving she asked, “Who is that?” And she received the an¬ 
swer that it was Hanna-Zissel and the shammes of the burial 
society who had come to her for a shroud. Gittel felt so faint 
that she could not understand where she got the strength to 
ask as coldly as she might ask the butcher for a chicken¬ 
wing: “Were they burned to death?” “Yes, they were 
burned to death.” “Both together?” “Together.” 

In terror she sat up and heard something stirring on the 
other side of the door, as if several hands were passing over 
it. She was barely able to ask: 

“Who is that?” 

“Us.” 

“Who is us?” 

“Unlock the door and you’ll see.” 

“The door is unlocked.” 

“But we can’t find the handle.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


88 


Gittel recognized her husband’s voice. She sprang to the 
door, opened it, and saw two creatures covered with mud 
like some fiends from the depths of the earth. At this sight 
she leaped back. 

“Happy Purim, my Gittel,” said one of them, staggering 
into the room without letting go of his companion. “I’ll 
swear that my name isn’t Chlavne,” he went on, “that you’ll 
never guess who has come to see you. You have two guests 
for Purim, Gittel. Two dead men . . . God in heaven, 
Gittel, why do you look so scared? . . . Yes, we are dead, 
but we do not come from the Other World. One of us is 
dead drunk, the other dead hungry. And which is drunk and 
which is hungry you’ll have to guess for yourself . . . 

“What are you staring for, Gittel? Don’t you know who 
this is? It’s Rothschild. May Reb Yossi sink into the earth 
together with the Kasrilevka mud! Rothschild is so covered 
with the mud that you can’t recognize him. You’d think 
he’d been rolling around in a pigsty.” 

Chlavne looked around the room, looked long at the table. 

“Do you know, Gittel? You’re a wise and thoughtful 
woman. Compared to you, Vashti is a silly little hen. You’ve 
put a bottle on the table, I see. Something must have told 
you what a holiday the whole world is celebrating today, and 
how we ought to celebrate it—with a prayer and a drink and 
a hamantash. To your health, Rothschild! May the Lord save 
Haman for another year, so we can hang him again with his 
ten sons on one gallows, fifty ells high! 

“Gittel—why don’t you say amen?” 



THE CLOCK THAT 
STRUCK THIRTEEN 


The clock struck thirteen. 

That’s the truth. I wasn’t joking. I am telling you a true 
story of what happened in Kasrilevka, in our own house. I 

was there. 

We had a hanging clock. It was an ancient clock that my 
grandfather had inherited from his father and his father’s fa¬ 
ther straight back to the days of Count Chmelnitski. 

What a pity that a clock is a lifeless thing, mute and with¬ 
out speech. Otherwise what stories it could have told and 
told. It had a name throughout the town—Reb Nochem’s 
clock—-so unfaltering and true in its course that men came 
from all directions to set their own clocks and watches by it. 
Only Reb Leibesh Akoron, a man of learning and philoso¬ 
phy, who could tell time by the sun and knew the almanac 
by heart, said that our clock was—next to his little watch- 
just so much tin and hardware, not worth a pinch of snuff. 
But even he had to admit that it was still a clock. And you 
must remember that Reb Leibesh was the man who, every 
Wednesday night, climbed to the roof of the synagogue or 
to the hilltop nearby, before the evening prayers, to catch 
the exact moment when the sun went down in one hand 
his watch, and in the other—his almanac. And just as the 



Sholom Aleiehem 


90 


sun sank below the housetops he muttered to himself: “On 
the dot!” 

He was always comparing the two timepieces. Walking in 
without so much as a Good Evening, he would glance up at 
our hanging clock, then down at his little watch, then over 
to his almanac, again at our clock, down to his watch, over to 
the almanac, several times, and away he went. 

Only one day when he came in to compare the two time¬ 
pieces with his almanac, he let out a yell, “Nochem! Quick! 
Where are you?” 

My father, more dead than alive, came running. “What— 
what’s happened, Reb Leibesh?” 

“You are asking me?” shouted Reb Leibesh, raising his lit¬ 
tle watch right up to my father’s face, and pointing with his 
other hand up to our clock: “Nochem, why don’t you say 
something? Can’t you see? It’s a minute and a half fast! A 
minute and a half! Cast out the thing!” He hurled the words 
like an angered prophet with a base image before him. 

My father did not like this at all. What did he mean, tell¬ 
ing him to cast the clock out? “Where is it written, Reb 
Leibesh, that my clock is a minute and a half fast? Maybe 
we can read the same sentence backward—that your watch is 
a minute and a half slow. How do you like that?” 

Reb Leibesh looked at my father as at a man who has just 
said that Sabbath comes twice a week or that the Day of 
Atonement falls on Passover. Reb Leibesh didn’t say a word. 
He sighed deeply, turned around, slammed the door and 
away he went. 

But we didn’t care. The whole town knew that Reb Lei¬ 
besh was a man whom nothing could please. The best cantor 
you ever heard sounded like a crow; the wisest man was— 
an ass; the best marriage—a failure; the cleverest epigram— 
a dull commonplace. 

But let us return to our clock. What a clock that was! Its 
chimes could be heard three doors away. Boom . . . Boom 
. . . boom . . . Almost half of the town ordered its life ac¬ 
cording to it. And what is Jewish life without a clock? How 



91 


The Clock That Struck Thirteen 


many things there are that must be timed to the minute—the 
lighting of the Sabbath candles, the end of the Sabbath, 
the daily prayers, the salting and the soaking of the meat, 
the intervals between meals . . . 

In short, our clock was the town clock. It was always faith¬ 
ful to us and to itself. In all its existence it never knew a re¬ 
pair man. My father, himself, was its only master. He had “an 
intuitive understanding of how it worked.” Every year before 
Passover he carefully removed it from the wall, cleaned the 
insides with a feather duster, took out from within a mass of 
spiderwebs, mutilated flies which the spiders had lured in¬ 
side, along with dead cockroaches that had lost their way and 
had met their sad fate there. Then, cleaned and sparkling, he 
hung the clock on the wall again, and it glowed. That is, 
they both glowed, the clock because it had been polished 
and cleaned, and my father—because the clock did. 

But there came a day when a strange thing happened. It 
was on a beautiful cloudless day when we were sitting at 
the noonday meal. Whenever the clock struck I liked to 
count the strokes, and I did it out loud. 

“One, two, three . . . seven . . . eleven, twelve, thir¬ 
teen . . 

What . . . thirteen! 

“Thirteen!” cried my father, and burst out laughing. “A 
fine mathematician you are—may the evil eye spare you. 
Whoever heard of a clock striking thirteen?” 

“Thirteen,” I said. “On my word of honor. Thirteen.” 

“I’ll give you thirteen smacks,” cried my father, aroused. 
“Don’t ever repeat such nonsense. Fool! A clock can t strike 
thirteen.” 

“Do you know what,” my mother broke in, “I’m afraid that 
the child is right. It seems to me that I counted thirteen, 
too.” 

“Wonderful,” said my father. “Another village heard from.” 

But at the same time he too began to suspect something. 
After dinner he went to the clock, climbed on a stool, and 
prodded around inside until the clock began to strike. All 



Staolom Aleichem 


92 


three of us counted, nodding our heads at each stroke: One, 
two, three . . . seven . . . nine . . . eleven, twelve, thir¬ 
teen.” 

“Thirteen,” repeated my father, with a look in his eye of a 
man who had just beheld the wall itself come to life and. 
start talking. He prodded once more at the wheels. Once 
more the clock struck thirteen. My father climbed down 
from the stool pale as a sheet and remained standing in the 
middle of the room, looking down at the floor, chewing his 
beard and muttering to himself, “It struck thirteen . . . How 
is that? What does it mean? If it was out of order it would 
have stopped. What then?” 

“What then?” said my mother. “Take down the clock and 
fix it. After all, you’re the expert.” 

“Well,” agreed my father, “maybe you’re right.” And tak¬ 
ing down the clock he busied himself with it. He sweated 
over it, he worked all day over it, and at last hung it back in 
its place. Thank the Lord, the clock ran as it should, and 
when midnight came we all stood around it and counted 
each stroke till twelve. My father beamed at us. 

“Well,” he said, “no more thirteen.” 

“I’ve always said you were an expert,” my mother said. 
“But there is one thing I don’t understand. Why does it 
wheeze? It never used to wheeze like this before.” 

“You’re imagining it,” my father said. But listening care¬ 
fully, we heard the clock wheeze when it got ready to ring, 
like an old man catching his breath before he coughs— 
“wh-wh-wh”—and then the boom . . . boom . . . boom. But 
even the boom itself was not the boom of olden days. The 
old boom had been a happy one, a joyous one, and now 
something sad had crept in, a sadness like that in the song 
of an old, worn-out cantor toward the end of the Day of 
Atonement . . . 

As time went on the wheezing became louder and the 
ringing more subdued and mournful, and my father became 
melancholy. We could see him suffering as though he watched 



93 


The Clock That Struck Thirteen 


a live thing in agony and could do nothing to help it. It seemed 
as though at any moment the clock would stop altogether. The 
pendulum began to act strangely. Something shivered inside, 
something got caught and dragged, like an old man dragging 
a bad leg. We could see the clock getting ready to stop forever. 
But just in time, my father came to the decision that there 
was nothing wrong with the clock itself. What was wrong was 
the weight. Not enough weight. And so he fastened to the 
weight the pestle of my mother’s mortar—a matter of several 
pounds. The clock began to run like a charm, and my father 
was happy again, a new man. 

But it didn’t last long. Again the clock began to fail. 
Again the pendulum began to act strangely, swinging some¬ 
times fast and sometimes slow. It was heartrending, it tore 
you apart, to see the clock languish before your eyes. And 
my father, watching it, drooped also, lost interest in life, suf¬ 
fered anguish. 

Like a good doctor devoted to his patient, considering ev¬ 
ery known treatment or possible remedy, my father tried ev¬ 
ery way imaginable to save the clock. 

“Not enough weight, not enough life,” said my father, and 
attached to the weight more and more objects. First an iron 
frying pan, and then a copper pitcher, then a flatiron, a bag 
of sand, a couple of bricks . . . Each time the clock drew 
fresh life and began to run. Painfully, with convulsions, but 
it worked. Till one night when a catastrophe took place.* 

It was a Friday night in winter. We had just eaten the 
Sabbath meal of delicious spicy fish with horseradish, fat 
chicken soup with noodles, pot roast with prunes and po¬ 
tatoes, and had said the grace that such a meal deserved. The 
candles were still flickering. The servant girl had just 
brought in the freshly roasted sunflower seeds, when in came 
Muma Yenta, a toothless, dark-skinned little woman whose 
husband had abandoned her years ago and gone off to Amer¬ 
ica. 

“Good Sabbath,” said Muma Yenta, breathless as usual. “I 



Sholom Aleichem 


94 


just knew you’d have sunflower seeds—the only trouble is— 
what can I crack them with? May my old man have as few 
years to live as I have teeth in my mouth . . . 

“M-m-m,” she went on, faster and faster, “I can still smell 
your fish, Malka . . . What a time I had getting fish this 
morning, with that Sarah-Pearl—the millionairess—standing 
next to me at the market. I was just saying to Menasha 
the fishman, ‘Why is everything so high today?’ when Sarah- 
Pearl jumps up with, ‘Quick, I’m in a hurry. How much does 
this pickerel weigh?’ ‘What’s your rush?’ I say to her. ‘The 
town isn’t on fire. Menasha won’t throw the fish back into the 
river. Among the rich,’ I let them know, ‘there is plenty of 
money but not much sense.’ Then she goes and opens her 
mouth at me. ‘Paupers,’ says she, ‘shouldn’t come around 
here. If you have no money you shouldn’t hanker after 
things.’ What do you think of her nerve? What was she be¬ 
fore she married—a peddler herself—standing in her moth¬ 
er’s stall at the market?” 

She caught her breath and went on: “These people and 
their marriages! Just like Abraham’s Pessel-Peiseh who is so 
delighted with her daughter just because she married a rich 
man from Stristch, who took her just as she stood, without 
dowry. Wonderful luck she has. They say she is getting to 
look a sight. The life those children lead her . . . What 
do you think—it’s so easy to be a stepmother? God forbid! 
Look at that Hava for instance. A good, well-meaning soul 
like that. But you should see the trouble she has with her 
stepchildren. The screaming you hear day and night, the way 
they talk back to her. And what’s worse—pitch-patch—three 
smacks for a penny . . 

The candles begin to gutter. The shadows tremble on the 
walls, they mount higher and higher. The sunflower seeds 
crackle. All of us are talking, telling stories to the company 
at large, with no one really listening. But Muma Yenta talks 
more than anybody. 

“Listen to this,” she lets out, “there is something even 
worse than all the rest. Not far from Yampola, a couple of 



95 


The Clock That Struck Thirteen 


miles, some robbers attacked a Jewish tavern the other night, 
killed everyone in the family, even an infant in a cradle. 
The only one left was a servant girl asleep on top of the 
oven in the kitchen. She heard the shrieks, jumped down 
from the oven, and looking through a crack in the door, saw 
the master and mistress lying murdered on the floor in a 
pool of blood. She took a chance—this servant girl—and 
jumped out of the window, running all the way to town 
yelling, ‘Children of Israel, save us! Help! Help! Help!’ ” 

Suddenly, in the midst of Muma Yenta’s yelling, “Help! 
Help!”—we hear a crash—bang—smash—boom—bam! Im¬ 
mersed in the story, all we could think was that robbers 
were attacking our own home, and were shooting at us from 
all sides—or that the room had fallen in—or a hurricane had 
hit us. We couldn’t move from our seats. We stared at each 
other speechless—waiting. Then all of us began to yell, 
“Help! Help! Help!” 

In a frenzy my mother caught me in her arms, pressed me 
to her heart, and cried, “My child, if it’s going to happen, let 
it happen to me! Oh . . 

“What is it?” cries my father. “What’s happened to him?” 

“It’s nothing. Nothing,” yells Muma Yenta, waving hei 
arms. “Be quiet.” And the girl runs in from the kitchen, 
wild-eyed. 

“What’s the matter? What’s happened? Is there a fire? 
Where is it?” 

“Fire? What fire?” shouts Muma Yenta at the girl. “Go 
burn, if you want to. Get scorched, if you like. She keeps 
scolding the girl as if it’s all her fault, then turns to us. 

“What are you all making this racket for? What are you 
frightened of? What do you think it is? Can’t you see? It’s 
just the clock. The clock fell down. Now do you know? Ev¬ 
erything you could imagine was hung on it—a half a ton at 
least. So it fell down. What’s strange about that? You 

wouldn’t have been any better yourself . . . 

At last we come to our senses. We get up from the table 
one by one, go up to the clock and inspect it from all sides. 



Sholom Aleichem 5,0 

There it lies, face down, broken, shattered, smashed, ruined 
forever. 

"It is all over,” says my father in a dull voice his head 
bent as if standing before the dead. He wrings his hands and 
tears appear in his eyes. I look at him and I want to cry too. 

"Hush, be quiet,” says my mother, “why do you grieve? 
Perhaps it was destined. Maybe it was written in heaven that 
today, at this minute, the end should come. Let it be an 
atonement for our sins—though I should not mention it on 
the Sabbath—for you, for me, for our children, for our loved 
ones, for all of Israel. Amen. Selah.” 

All that night I dreamed of clocks. I imagined that I saw 
our old clock lying on the ground, clothed in a white shroud. 
I imagined that I saw the clock still alive, but instead of a 
pendulum there swung back and forth a long tongue, a hu¬ 
man tongue, and the clock did not ring, but groaned. And 
each groan tore something out of me. And on its face, where 
I used to see the twelve, I saw suddenly number thirteen. 
Yes, thirteen. You may believe me—on my word of honor. 



HOME FOR PASSOVER 


Two times a year, as punctually as a clock, in April and 
again in September, Fishel the melamed goes home from 
Balta to Hashtchavata to his wife and children, for Passover 
and for the New Year. Almost all his life it has been his 
destiny to be a guest in his own home, a most welcome guest 
it is true, but for a very short time, only over the holidays. 
And as soon as the holidays are over he packs his things and 
goes back to Balta, back to his teaching, back to the rod, to 
the Gamorah that he studies with the unwilling small boys 
of Balta, back to his exile among strangers and to his secret 
yearning for home. 

However, when Fishel does come home, he is a king! 
Bath-Sheba, his wife, comes out to meet him, adjusts her 
kerchief, becomes red as fire, asks him quickly without look¬ 
ing him in the eye, “How are you, Fishel?” And he answers, 
“How are you?” And Froike, his boy, now almost thirteen, 
holds out his hand, and the father asks him, “Where are you 
now, Ephraim, in your studies?” And Reizel, his daughter, a 
bright-faced little girl with her hair in braids, runs up and 
kisses him. 

“Papa, what did you bring me for the holidays?” 

“Material for a dress, and for your mother a silk shawl. 
Here, give Mother the shawl.” 



98 


Sholom Aleichem 

And Fishel takes a new silk (or maybe half-silk) shawl 
out of his tallis- sack, and Bath-Sheba becomes redder than 
ever, pulls her kerchief low over her eyes, pretends to get 
busy around the house, bustles here and there and gets noth¬ 
ing done. 

“Come, Ephraim, show me how far you’ve got in the 
Gamorah. I want to see how you’re getting along.” 

And Froike shows his father what a good boy he has been, 
how well he has applied himself, the understanding he has 
of his work and how good his memory is. And Fishel listens 
to him. corrects him once or twice, and his soul expands 
with pride. He glows with happiness. What a fine boy Froike 
is! What a jewel! 

“If you want to go to the Baths, here is a shirt ready for 
you.” says Bath-Sheba, without looking him in the eye, and 
Fishel feels strangely happy, like a man who has escaped 
from prison into the bright, free world among his own peo¬ 
ple, his loved and faithful ones. And he pictures himself in 
the room thick with steam, lying on the top ledge together 
with a few of his cronies, all of them sweating, rubbing each 
other and beating each other with birch rods and calling for 
more, more . . . 

“Harder! Rub harder! Can’t you make it harder!” 

And coming home from the bath, refreshed, invigorated, 
almost a new man, he dresses for the holiday. He puts on his 
best gabardine with the new cord, steals a glance at Bath- 
Sheba in her new dress with the new silk shawl, and finds 
her still a presentable woman, a good, generous, pious woman 
. . . And then with Froike he goes to the synagogue. There 
greetings fly at him from all sides. “Well, well! Reb Fishel! 
How are you? How’s the melamed?" “The rnelamed is still 
teaching.” “What’s happening in the world?” “What should 
happen? It’s still the same old world.” “What’s doing in 
Balta?” “Balta is still Balta.” Always, every six months, the 
same formula, exactly the same, word for word. And Nissel 
the cantor steps up to the lectern to start the evening serv- 



99 


Home for Passover 


ices. He lets go with his good, strong voice that grows louder 
and stronger as he goes along. Fishel is pleased with the per¬ 
formance. He is also pleased with Froike’s. The lad stands 
near him and prays, prays with feeling, and Fishel's soul ex¬ 
pands with pride. He glows with happiness. A fine boy, 
Froike! A good Jewish boy! 

“Good yom-tev! Good yom-tev!” 

“Good yom-tev to you!” 

They are home already and the seder is waiting. The wine 
in the glasses, the horseradish, the eggs, the haroses, and all 
the other ritual foods. His “throne” is ready—two stools 
with a large pillow spread over them. Any minute now Fishel 
will become the king, any minute he will seat himself on his 
royal throne in a white robe, and Bath-Sheba, his queen, with 
her new silk shawl will sit at his side. Ephraim, the prince, in 
his new cap and Princess Reizel with her braids will sit facing 
them. 

Make way, fellow Israelites! Show your respect! Fishel the 
melamed has mounted his throne! Long live Fishel! 

The wits of Hashtchavata, who are always up to some 
prank and love to make fun of the whole world (and espe¬ 
cially of a humble teacher) once made up a story about 
Fishel. They said that one year, just before Passover, Fishel 
sent a telegram to Bath-Sheba reading like this: Rabiata so- 
brani. Dengi vezu. Prigotov puli. Yedu tzarstvovat. In ordi¬ 
nary language this is what it meant: “Classes dismissed. 
Purse full. Prepare kneidlach. I come to rule.” This tele¬ 
gram, the story goes on, was immediately turned over to 
the authorities in Balta, Bath-Sheba was searched but nothing 
was found, and Fishel himself was brought home under po¬ 
lice escort. But I can tell you on my word of honor that this 
is a falsehood and a lie. Fishel had never in his life sent a 
telegram to anyone. Bath-Sheba was never searched. And 
Fishel was never arrested. That is, he was arrested once, but 
not for sending a telegram. He was arrested because of a 



Sholom Aleichem IUU 

passport. And that not in Balta but in Yehupetz, and it 
was not before Passover but in the middle of summer. This 
is what happened. 

Fishel had suddenly decided that he would like to teach in 
Yehupetz that year, and had gone there without a passport 
to look for work. He thought it was the same as Balta, 
where he needed no passport, but he was sadly mistaken. 
And before he was through with that experience he swore 
that not only he but even his children and grandchildren 
would never go to Yehupetz again to look for work . . . 

And ever since that time he goes directly to Balta every 
season and in the spring he ends his classes a week or two 
before Passover and dashes ofF for home. What do you mean 
—dashes off? He goes as fast as he can—that is, assuming 
that the roads are clear and he can find a wagon to take him 
and he can cross the Bug either over the ice or by ferry. But 
what happens if the snows have melted and the mud is deep, 
there is no wagon to be gotten, the Bug has just opened and 
the ferry hasn’t started yet because of the ice, and if you try 
to cross by boat you risk your very life—and Passover is 
right in front of your nose? What can you do? Take it the 
way a man does if he’s on his way from Machnivka to Ber- 
dichev for the Sabbath, or from Sohatchov to Warsaw—it’s 
late Friday afternoon, the wagon is going up a hill, it’s get¬ 
ting dark fast, suddenly they’re caught in a cloudburst, he’s 
dead hungry—and just then the axle snaps! It’s a real prob¬ 
lem, I can assure you . . . 

Well, Fishel the melamed knows what that problem is. As 
long as he has been a teacher and has taken the trip from 
Hashtchavata to Balta and from Balta to Hashtchavata, he 
has experienced every inconvenience that a journey can of¬ 
fer. He has known what it is to go more than halfway on 
foot, and to help push the wagon too. He has known what it 
is to lie together with a priest in a muddy ditch, with himself 
on bottom and the priest on top. He has known how it feels 
to run away from a pack of wolves that followed his wagon 
from Hashtchavata as far as Petschani—although later, it is 



101 


Home for Passover 


true, he found out that it was not wolves but dogs. . . . But 
all these calamities were nothing compared with what he 
had to go through this year when he was on his way to 
spend the Passover with his family. 

It was all the fault of the Bug. This one year it opened 
up a little later than usual, and became a torrent just at the 
time when Fishel was hurrying home—and he had reason to 
hurry! Because this year Passover started on Friday night— 
the beginning of Sabbath—and it was doubly important for 
him to be home on time. 

Fishel reached the Bug—traveling in a rickety wagon with 
a peasant—Thursday night. According to his reckoning he 
should have come there Tuesday morning, because he had 
left Balta Sunday noon. If he had only gone with Yankel- 
Sheigetz, the Balta coachman, on his regular weekly trip— 
even if he had to sit at the rear with his back to the other 
passengers and his feet dangling—he would have been home 
a long time ago and would have forgotten all about the 
whole journey. But the devil possessed him to go into the 
marketplace to see if he could find a cheaper conveyance; 
and it is an old story that the less you pay for something, the 
more it costs. Jonah the Drunkard had warned him. Take 
my advice. Uncle, let it cost you two rubles but you’ll sit like 
a lord in Yankel’s coach—right in the very back row! Re¬ 
member, you’re playing with fire. There is not much time to 
lose!” But it was just his luck that the devil had to drag an 
old peasant from Hashtchavata across his path. 

‘‘Hello, Rabbi! Going to Hashtchavata?” 

‘‘Good! Can you take me? How much will it cost?” 

How much it would cost—that he found it necessary to 
ask; but whether or not he would get home in time for 
Passover—that didn’t even occur to Fishel. After all, even if 
he went on foot and took only tiny steps like a shackled 
person, he should have been able to reach Hashtchavata in 
less than a week . . . 

But they had hardly started out before Fishel was sorry 



Sholom Aleichem 


102 


that he had hired this wagon, even though he had all the 
room in the world to stretch out in. It became apparent very 
soon that at the rate at which they were creeping they would 
never be able to get anywhere in time. All day long they 
rode and they rode, and at the end of the day they had 
barely got started. And no matter how much he kept both¬ 
ering the old peasant, no matter how many times he asked 
how far they still had to go, the man did not answer. He 
only shrugged his shoulders and said, “Who can tell?” 

It was much later, toward evening, that Yankel-Sheigetz 
overtook them, with a shout and whistle and a crack of the 
whip—overtook them and passed them with his four pranc¬ 
ing horses bedecked with tiny bells, and with his coach 
packed with passengers inside, on the driver's seat, and some 
hanging onto the rear. Seeing the teacher sitting alone in the 
wagon with the peasant, Yankel-Sheigetz cracked his whio 
in the air again and cursed them both, the driver and the 
passenger, as only he could curse, laughed at them and at 
the horse, and after he had passed them he turned back and 
pointed at one of the wheels: 

“Hey, shlimazl! Look! One of your wheels is turning!” 

“Whoa!” the peasant yelled, and together the driver and 
passenger climbed down, looked at every wheel, at every 
spoke, crawled under the wagon, searched everywhere, and 
found nothing wrong. 

Realizing that Yankel had played a trick on them, the 
peasant began to scratch the back of his neck, and at the 
same time he cursed Yankel and every other Jew on earth 
with fresh new curses that Fishel had never heard in all his 
life. He shouted louder and louder and with every word 
grew angrier and angrier. 

"Ah, shob tubi dobra ne bulo!” he cried. “Bad luck to you, 
Jew! I hope you die! I hope you never arrive! Every one of 
you die! You and your horse and your wife and your daugh¬ 
ter and your aunts and your uncles and your cousins and 
your second-cousins and—and—and all the rest of your 
cursed Jews!” 


103 


Home for Passover 


It was a long time before the peasant climbed into his 
wagon again and was ready to start. But even then he was 
still angry; he couldn’t stop yelling. He continued to heap 
curses at the head of Yankel-Sheigetz and all the Jews until, 
with God’s help, they came to a village where they could 
spend the night. 

The next morning Fishel got up very early, before dawn, 
said his morning prayers, read through the greater part of 
the Book of Psalms, had a beigel for breakfast, and was ready 
to go on. But Feodor was not ready. Feodor had found an 
old crony of his in the village and had spent the night with 
him, drinking and carousing. Then he slept the greater part 
of the day and was not ready to start till evening. 

“Now, look here, Feodor,” Fishel complained to him when 
they were in the wagon again, “the devil take you and your 
mother! After all, Feodor, I hired you to get me home for 
the holidays! I depended on you. I trusted you.” And that 
wasn’t all he said. He went on in the same vein, half plead¬ 
ing, half cursing, in a mixture of Russian and Hebrew, and 
when words failed him he used his hands. Feodor understood 
well enough what Fishel meant, but he did not answer a 
word, not a sound, as though he knew that Fishel was right. 
He was as quiet and coy as a little kitten until, on the fourth 
day, near Petschani, they met Yankel-Sheigetz on his way back 
from Hashtchavata with a shout and a crack of the whip and 
this good piece of news: 

“You might just as well turn back to Balta! The Bug has 
opened up!” 

When Fishel heard this his heart sank, but Feodor thought 
that Yankel was making fun of him again and began to 
curse once more with even greater vigor and originality than 
before. He cursed Yankel from head to foot, he cursed ev¬ 
ery limb and every bone of his body. And his mouth did 
not shut until Thursday evening, when they came to the 
Bug. They drove right up to Prokop Baraniuk, the ferry¬ 
man, to find out when he would start running the ferry 

again. 



Sholom Aleichem 


104 


And while Feodor and Prokop took a drink and talked 
things over, Fishel went off into a corner to say his evening 
prayers. 

The sun was beginning to set. It cast its fiery rays over 
the steep hills on both sides of the river, in spots still cov¬ 
ered with snow and in spots already green, cut through with 
rivulets and torrents that bounded downhill and poured into 
the river itself with a roar where they met with the running 
waters from the melting ice. On the other side of the river, 
as if on a table, lay Hashtchavata, its church steeple gleaming 
in the sun like a lighted candle. 

Standing there and saying his prayers with his face to¬ 
ward Hashtchavata, Fishel covered his eyes with his hand and 
tried to drive from his mind the tempting thoughts that tor¬ 
mented him: Bath-Sheba with her new silk shawl, Froike 
with his Gamorah, Reizel with her braids, and the steaming 
bath. And fresh matzo with strongly seasoned fish and fresh 
horseradish that tore your nostrils apart, and Passover borsht 
that tasted like something in Paradise, and other good things 
that man’s evil spirit can summon . . . And no matter how 
much Fishel drove these thoughts from his mind they kept 
coming back like summer flies, like mosquitoes, and they did 
not let him pray as a man should. 

And when he had finished his prayers Fishel went back to 
Prokop and got into a discussion with him about the ferry 
and the approaching holiday, explaining to him half in Rus¬ 
sian, half in Hebrew, and the rest with his hands, how im¬ 
portant a holiday Passover was to the Jews, and what it 
meant when Passover started on Friday evening! And he 
made it clear to him that if he did not cross the Bug by 
that time tomorrow—all was lost: in addition to the fact that 
at home everybody was waiting for him—his wife and chil¬ 
dren (and here Fishel gave a heart-rending sigh)—if he did 
not cross the river before sunset, then for eight whole days 
he would not be able to eat or drink a thing. He might as 
well throw himself into the river right now! (At this point 



105 


Home for Passover 


Fishel turned his face aside so that no one could see that 
there were tears in his eyes.) 

Prokop Baraniuk understood the plight that poor Fishel 
was in, and he answered that he knew that the next day was 
a holiday; he even knew what the holiday was called, and 
he knew that it was a holiday when people drink wine and 
brandy. He knew of another Jewish holiday when people 
drank brandy too, and there was a third when they drank 
still more, in fact they were supposed to become drunk, but 
what they called that day he had forgotten . . . 

“Good, that’s very good!’’ Fishel interrupted with tears in 
his voice. “But what are we going to do now? What if to¬ 
morrow—God spare the thought . . .’’ Beyond that poor 
Fishel could not say another word. 

For this Prokop had no answer. All he did was to point to 
the river with his hand, as though to say, “Well—see for 
yourself . . .” 

And Fishel lifted his eyes and beheld what his eyes had 
never before seen in all his life, and he heard what his ears 
had never heard. For it can truthfully be said that never be¬ 
fore had Fishel actually seen what the out-of-doors was like. 
Whatever he had seen before had been seen at a glance 
while he was on his way somewhere, a glimpse snatched 
while hurrying from chcder to the synagogue or from syna¬ 
gogue to cheder. And now the sight of the majestic blue 
Bug between its two steep banks, the rush of the spring 
freshets tumbling down the hills, the roar of the river itself, 
the dazzling splendor of the setting sun, the flaming church 
steeple, the fresh, exhilarating odor of the spring earth and 
the air, and above all the simple fact of being so close to 
home and not being able to get there—all these things to¬ 
gether worked on Fishel strangely. They picked him up and 
lifted him as though on wings and carried him off into a 
new world, a world of fantasy, and he imagined that to cross 
the Bug was the simplest thing in the world—like taking a 
pinch of snuff—if only the Eternal One cared to perform a 
tiny miracle and rescue him from his plight. 



106 


Sholom Aleichem 

These thoughts and others like them sped through 
Fishel’s head and carried him aloft and bore him so far from 
the river bank that before he was aware of it, night had 
fallen, the stars were out, a cool wind had sprung up and 
had stolen in under his gabardine and ruffled his undershirt. 
And Fishel went on thinking of things he had never thought 
of before—of time and eternity, of the unlimited expanse of 
space, of the vastness of the universe, of the creation of 
heaven and earth itself . . . 

It was a troubled night that Fishel the melamed spent in 
the hut of Prokop the ferryman. But even that night finally 
came to an end and the new day dawned with a smile of 
warmth and friendliness. It was a rare and balmy morning. 
The last patches of snow became soft, like kasha, and the 
kasha turned to water, and the water poured into the Bug 
from all directions . . . Only here and there could be seen 
huge blocks of ice that looked like strange animals, like po¬ 
lar bears that hurried and chased each other, as if they were 
afraid that they would be too late in arriving where they 
were going . . . 

And once again Fishel the melamed finished his prayers, 
ate the last crust of bread that was left in his sack, and 
went out to take a look at the river and to see what could 
be done about getting across it. But when he heard from 
Prokop that they would be lucky if the ferry could start 
Sunday afternoon, he became terrified. He clutched his head 
with both hands and shook all over. He fumed at Prokop, 
and scolded him in his own mixture of Russian and Hebrew. 
Why had Prokop given him hope the night before, why 
had he said that they might be able to get across today? To 
this Prokop answered coldly that he had not said a word 
about crossing by ferry, he had only said that they might be 
able to get across, and this they could still do. He could take 
him over any way he wanted to—in a rowboat or on a raft, 
and it would cost him another half -ruble —not a kopek more. 

“Have it your own way!” sobbed Fishel. “Let it be a row- 



107 


Ilome for Passover 


boat. Let it be a raft. Only don’t make me spend the holiday 
here on the bank!” 

That was Fishel’s answer. And at the moment he would 
have been willing to pay two rubles, or even dive in and 
swim across—if he could only swim. He was willing to risk 
his life for the holy Passover. And he went after Prokop 
heatedly, urged him to get out the boat at once and take 
him across the Bug to Hashtchavata, where Bath-Sheba, 
Froike and Reizel were waiting for him. They might even 
be standing on the other side now', there on the hilltop, 
calling to him, beckoning, waving to him . . . But he could 
not see them or hear their voices, for the river was wide, so 
fearfully wide, wider than it had ever been before. 

The sun was more than halfway across the clear, deep-blue 
sky before Prokop called Fishel and told him to jump into 
the boat. And when Fishel heard these words his arms and 
legs went limp. He did not know' what to do. In all his life 
he had never been in a boat like that. Since he w'as born he 
had never been in a boat of any kind. And looking at the 
boat he thought that any minute it would tip to one side— 
and Fishel would be a martyr! 

“Jump in and let’s go!” Prokop called to him again, and 
reaching up he snatched the pack from Fishel’s hand. 

Fishel the melamed carefully pulled the skirt of his gabar¬ 
dine high up around him and began to turn this way and 
that. Should he jump—or shouldn’t he? On the one hand— 
Sabbath and Passover in one, Bath-Sheba, Froike. Reizel, 
the scalding bath, the seder and all its ceremonial, the royal 
throne. On the other hand—the terrible risk, almost certain 
death. You might call it suicide. Because after all, if the 
boat tipped only once, Fishel was no more. His children were 
orphans. And he stood with his coat pulled up so long that 
Prokop lost his patience and began to shout at him. He 
warned him that if Fishel did not jump in at once he would 
spit at him and go across by himself to Hashtchavata. Hear¬ 
ing the beloved word Hash-tcha-va-ta, Fischel remembered 
his dear and true ones again, summoned up all his courage 



108 


Sholom Aleichem 

and fell into the boat. I say “fell into” because with his first 
step the boat tipped ever so slightly, and Fishel, thinking he 
would fall, drew suddenly back, and this time he really did 
fall, right on his face . . . Several minutes passed before he 
came to. His face felt clammy, his arms and legs trembled, 
and his heart pounded like an alarm clock: tick-tock, tick- 
tock, tick-tock! 

As though he were sitting on a stool in his own home, 
Prokop sat perched in the prow of the boat and coolly 
pulled at his oars. The boat slid through the sparkling wa¬ 
ters, and Fishel’s head whirled. He could barely sit upright. 
No, he didn't even try to sit. He was hanging on, clutching 
the boat with both hands. Any second, he felt, he would 
make the wrong move, any second now he would lose his 
grip, fall back or tumble forward into the deep—and that 
would be the end of Fishel! And at this thought the words 
of Moses' song in Exodus came back to him: “They sank 
as lead in the mighty waters.” His hair stood straight up. He 
would not even be buried in consecrated ground! And he 
made a vow ... 

But what could Fishel promise? Charity? He had nothing 
to give. He was such a poor, poor man. So he vowed that if 
the Lord brought him back home in safety he would spend 
the rest of his nights studying the Holy Writ. By the end of 
the year he would go, page by page, through the entire Six 
Orders of the Talmud. If only he came through alive . . . 

Fishel would have liked to know if it was still far to the 
other shore, but it was just his luck to have sat down with 
his face to Prokop and his back to Hashtchavata. And to ask 
Prokop he was afraid. He was afraid even to open his mouth. 
He was so sure that if he so much as moved his jaws the 
boat would tip again, and if it did, where would Fishel be 
then? And to make it worse, Prokop became suddenly talka¬ 
tive. He said that the worst possible time to cross the river 
was during the spring floods. You couldn’t even go in a 
straight direction. You had to use your head, turn this way 



109 


llome for Passover 


and that. Sometimes you even had to go back a little and 
then go forward again. 

“There goes one as big as an iceberg!” Propkop warned. 
“It’s coming straight at us!” And he swung the boat back just 
in time to let a huge mass of ice go past with a strange roar. 
And then Fishel began to understand what kind of trip this 
was going to be! 

“Ho! Look at that!” Prokop shouted again, and pointed 
upstream. 

Fishel lifted his eyes slowly, afraid to move too fast, and 
looked—looked and saw nothing. All he could see anywhere 
was water—water and more water. 

“There comes another! We’ll have to get past—it’s too late 

to back up!” 

And this time Prokop worked like mad. He hurled the 
boat forward through the foaming waves, and Fishel became 
cold with fear. He wanted to say something, but was afraid. 
And once more Prokop spoke up: 

“If we don’t make it in time, it’s just too bad.” 

“What do you mean—too bad?” 

“What do you think it means? We’re lost—that’s what.” 
“Lost?” 

“Sure! Lost.” 

“What do you mean—lost?” 

“You know what I mean. Rubbed out.” 

“Rubbed out?” 

“Rubbed out.” 

Fishel did not understand exactly what these words meant. 
He did not even like the sound—lost—rubbed out. He had 
a feeling that it had to do with eternity, with that endless 
existence on a distant shore. And a cold sweat broke out 
all over his body, and once again the verse came to him, 

“They sank as lead in the mighty waters.” 

To calm him down Prokop started to tell a story that had 
happened a year before at this same time. The ice of the 
Bug had torn loose and the ferry could not be used. And just 



110 


Sholom Aleichem 

his luck one day an important-looking man drove up and 
wanted to go across. He turned out to be a tax officer from 
Ouman, and he was ready to pay no less than a ruble for 
the trip. Halfway across two huge chunks of ice bore down 
upon them. There was only one thing for Prokop to do and 
he did it: he slid in between the two chunks, cut right 
through between them. Only in the excitement he must have 
rocked the boat a trifle too much, because they both went 
overboard into the icy water. It was lucky that he could swim. 
The tax collector apparently couldn’t, and they never found 
him again. Too bad ... A ruble lost like that . . . He 

should have collected in advance ... 

Prokop finished the story and sighed deeply, and Fishel 
felt an icy chill go through him and his mouth went dry. He 
could not say a word. He could not make a sound, not even 

a squeak. 

When they were halfway over, right in the middle of the 
current, Prokop paused and looked upstream. Satisfied with 
what he saw, he put the oars down, dug a hand deep into his 
pocket and pulled out a bottle from which he proceeded to 
take a long, long pull. Then he took out a few black cloves 
and while he was chewing them he apologized to Fishel for 
his drinking. He did not care for the whisky itself, he said, 
but he had to take it, at least a few drops, or he got sick ev> 
ery time he tried to cross the river. He wiped his mouth, 
picked up his oars, glanced again upstream, and exclaimed: 

“Now we’re in for it!” 

In for what? Where? Fishel did not know and he was 
afraid to ask, but instinctively he felt that if Prokop had 
been more specific he would have added something about 
death or drowning. That it was serious was apparent from the 
way Prokop was acting. He was bent double and was thrash¬ 
ing like mad. Without even looking at Fishel he ordered: 

“Quick. Uncle! Lie down!” 

Fishel did not have to be told twice. He saw close by a 
towering block of ice bearing down upon them. Shutting his 



Ill 


Home for Passover 


eyes, he threw himself face down on the bottom of the boat 
and trembling all over began, in a hoarse whisper, to recite 
Shma Yisroel. He saw himself already sinking through the 
waters. He saw the wide-open mouth of a gigantic fish; he 
pictured himself being swallowed like the prophet Jonah 
when he was escaping to Tarshish. And he remembered 
Jonah’s prayer, and quietly, in tears, he repeated the words: 
“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; the deep 
was round about me. The weeds were wrapped about my 
head.” 

Thus sang Fishel the melamed and he wept, wept bit¬ 
terly, at the thought of Bath-Sheba, who was as good as a 
widow already, and the children, who were as good as or¬ 
phans. And all this time Prokop was working with all his 
might, and as he worked he sang this song: 

“Oh, you waterfowl! 

You black-winged waterfowl — 

You black-winged bird!” 

And Prokop was as cool and cheerful as if he were on dry 
land, sitting in his own cottage. And Fishel’s “encompassed 
me about” and Prokop’s “waterfowl,” and Fishel’s “the weeds 
were wrapped” and Prokop’s “black-winged bird” merged 
into one, and on the surface of the Bug was heard a strange 
singing, a duet such as had never been heard on its broad 
surface before, not ever since the river had been known as 

Bug . . . 

“Why is he so afraid of death, that little man?” Prokop 
Baraniuk sat wondering, after he had got away from the ice¬ 
floe and pulled his bottle out of his pocket again for another 
drink. “Look at him, a little fellow like that—poor, in tatters 
... I wouldn’t trade this old boat for him. And he’s afraid 

to die!” 

And Prokop dug his boot into Fishel’s side, and Fishel 
trembled. Prokop began to laugh, but Fishel did not hear. 
He was still praying, he was saying Kaddish for his own soul, 

as if he were dead . . . 



112 


Sholom Aleichem 

But if he were dead would he be hearing what Prokop 
was saying now? 

“Get up. Uncle. We’re there already. In Hashtchavata.” 

Fishel lifted his head up slowly, cautiously, looked around 
on all sides with his red, swollen eyes. 

“Hash-tcha-va-ta?” 

“Hashtchavata! And now you can give me that half-ruble!” 

And Fishel crawled out of the boat and saw that he was 
really home at last. He didn’t know what to do first. Run 
home to his wife and children? Dance and sing on the 
bank? Or should he praise and thank the Lord who had pre¬ 
served him from such a tragic end? He paid the boatman 
his half -ruble, picked up his pack, and started to run as fast 
as he could. But after a few steps he stopped, turned back to 
the ferryman: 

“Listen, Prokop, my good friend! Come over tomorrow 
for a glass of Passover brandy and some holiday fish. Re¬ 
member the name—Fishel the melatned! You hear? Don’t 
forget now!” 

“Why should I forget? Do you think I’m a fool?” 

And he licked his lips at the thought of the Passover 
brandy and the strongly seasoned Jewish fish. 

“That’s wonderful. Uncle! That’s wonderful!” 

When Fishel the melamed came into the house, Bath- 
Sheba, red as fire, with her kerchief low over her eyes, asked 
shyly, “How are you?” And he answered, “How are you?” 
And she asked, “Why are you so late?” And he answered, 
“We can thank God. It was a miracle.” And not another 
word, because it was so late. 

He did not even have time to ask Froike how he was 
getting along in the Talmud, or give Reizel the gift he had 
brought her, or Bath-Sheba the new silk shawl. Those things 
would have to wait. All he could think of now was the bath. 
And he just barely made it. 

And when he came home from the bath he did not say 
anything either. Again he put it off till later. All he said 



113 


Homo for Passover 


was, “A miracle from heaven. We can thank the Lord. He 
takes care of us . . 

And taking Froike by the hand, he hurried off to the syn¬ 
agogue. 



THE ENCHANTED 
TAILOR 


Once there was a man named Shimmen-Eli who lived in 
Zolodievka, a little town in the district of Mazapevka, not 
far from Haplapovitch and Kozodoievka (between Yampoli 
and Strishtch on the road that runs from Pischi-Yaboda 
through Petchi-Hvost to Tetrevitz and from there to Yehu- 
petz). And he was known as Shimmen-Eli Shma-Koleinu, 
(the Hebrew for “Hear our voice, O Lord") because in the 
synagogue he shouted louder, swayed more vigorously, 
chanted and warbled with greater emotion than anyone else. 
By trade Shimmen-Eli was a tailor; not, you understand, a 
master tailor who sewed according to the latest fashion books, 
but a mender of great skill who excelled at darning holes 
and making patches that could never be detected, in turning 
a garment inside out and making the old look like new. He 
could take a threadbare coat and turn it into a gabardine, 
the gabardine into a pair of trousers, cut the trousers into a 
jacket, and the jacket into something else again. 

This was by no means such easy work, but Shimmen-Eli 
Shma-Koleinu was an artist at it, and Zolodievka being a 
poor town where a new garment was a rare thing, Shimmen- 
Eli was held in high esteem. His only drawback was that he 
could never get along with the rich men of the town. He 
was always interfering in public affairs, defending the rights 



115 


The Enchanted Tailor 


of the poor, speaking out bluntly about the town philan¬ 
thropists, calling the tax-collector a blood-sucker and canni¬ 
bal, and the rabbis and shochtim who worked together with 
the tax-collector a band of thieves, murderers, scoundrels and 
highwaymen. Let the devil take them all, together with their 
fathers and grandfathers and Uncle Ishmael . . . 

Among his fellow workers Shimmen-Eli was considered 
a man of great and esoteric learning, tor he was always full 
of quotations. He quoted passages from the Bible, which 
some of them knew, from Garnorah and Midrash which they 
had heard about, and from other commentaries whose exist¬ 
ence they had never even suspected. No matter what the oc¬ 
casion, he had a Hebrew quotation at the tip of his tongue. 
If the quotation was usually garbled, if the beginning did 
not match the ending, and if none of it suited the occasion, 
that is not for us to judge. 

In addition to his learning he had a voice that was not 
so bad, though possibly a little too shrill. He knew all the 
tunes and traditional renderings of all the pjayers by heart, 
and he loved to lead the services in the Tailors’ Chapel, 
where he was president—an office that bvought him more 
grief than honor. A box in the ear, a slap in the face, was 
not uncommon at the Tailors’ Chapel, and '(he president was 
usually at the receiving end. 

Although Shimmen-Eli had been wretchedly poor all his 
life, a pauper actually, nevertheless he did not let his poverty 
get the best of him. On the contrary, he always said, “The 
poorer I am, the better I feel. The hungrier I am, the louder 
I sing. As the Gamorah says . . And here he let fly one 
of his famous quotations, one part Hebrew, one part Chal- 
daic, and the rest as often as not a knock-kneed, staggering 
Russian. 

In appearance Shimmen-Eli was short and homely, with 
pins and needles sticking out all over him and bits of cotton 
batting clinging to his curly black hair. He had a short beard 
like a goat’s, a flattened nose, a split lower lip and large 
black eyes that were always smiling. His walk was a little 



Sholom Aleichem 


116 


dance all his own and he was always humming to himself. 
His favorite saying was, “That’s life—but don’t worry.” 

And Shimmen-Eli was blessed with sons and daughters of 
all ages—mainly daughters. And he had a wife named 
Tsippa-Baila-Reiza who was his exact opposite; a tall, strong, 
red-faced, broad-shouldered woman, a regular Cossack in ap¬ 
pearance. Ever since the day of their wedding she had taken 
him in hand and never loosened her hold. She was the head 
of the house, and her husband had the greatest respect for 
her. She had only to open her mouth and he trembled. In 
the Tailors’ Chapel it was said openly that Shimmen-Eli may 
have patched the pants, but his wife wore them. At times, 
when they were alone, she was not above giving him a good 
slap in the face. This slap Shimmen-Eli would put into his 
pocket, and comfort himself with his favorite quotation: 
“That's life—but don’t worry. The Bible says, ‘And he shall 
rule over thee,’ but it means nothing. Let all the kings of 
East and West do what they will, it won’t help.” 


2 

And it came to pass that one summer day Shimmen-Eli’s 
wife, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza, came home from the market with 
her basket of purchases, flung down the bunch of garlic, the 
few parsnips and potatoes that she had bought, and cried out 
angrily, “The devil with it! I’m sick and tired of it all. Day 
after day, day after day, I break my head trying to think what 
to cook for dinner. You need the brains of a prime minister 
to think of something new. Every day it’s dumplings and 
beans, beans and dumplings. May God forgive me for com¬ 
plaining, but look at Nechama-Brocha, will you—a pauper 
like that, without a kopek to her name or a whole dish in 
her cupboard—and she has to have a goat! Why is it? Be¬ 
cause her husband, though only a tailor, is still a man! So 
they have a goat, and if there is a goat in the house you 
can have a glass of milk for the children, you can cook por- 



117 


The Enchanted Tailor 


ridge with milk, you can make a milk soup for dinner, noo¬ 
dles and milk for supper, and besides you can count on a 
pitcher of sour cream, a piece of cheese, a bit of butter. 
Think of it. If we only had a goat!” 

‘‘You’re quite right. I’m afraid,” said Shimmen-Eli mildly. 
“There is an ancient law that every Jew must own a goat. 
Let me quote you . . .” 

“What good are your quotations?” cried Tsippa-Baila- 
Reiza. “I tell you about a goat and you give me quotations. 
I’ll give you a quotation in a minute and you'll see stars! 
He feeds me quotations, that breadwinner of mine, the shli- 
mazl. I wouldn’t trade all your quotations and all your learn¬ 
ing for one good borsht with cream! Do you hear?” 

With broad hints like this Tsippa-Baila-Reiza plagued her 
husband constantly, until Shimmen-Eli promised her on his 
word of honor that from then on she could rest easily. With 
God’s help she would get a goat. 

“But how?” asked Tsippa-Baila-Reiza. 

“Don’t worry,” answered Shimmen-Eli. 

From that time on Shimmen-Eli began to save his 
groschens. He denied himself many necessary things, pawned 
his Sabbath gabardine, and by the greatest economy managed 
to save up a few rubles. It was decided that he should take 
the money and go over to Kozodoievka to buy a goat. Why 
to Kozodoievka? For two reasons. First of all, because Kozo¬ 
doievka was famous for its goats, as the name implies koza 
meaning goat in Russian. And secondly, because Tsippa-Baila- 
Reiza had heard from a neighbor of hers with whom she had 
not been on speaking terms for a number of years, and who in 
turn had heard it from her sister who lived in Kozodoievka 
and who had visited her not long before, that there was a 
melamed , a teacher, in that town, named Chaim-Chana the 
Wise (because he was such a fool) who had a wife named 
Tema-Gittel the Silent (because she was so talkative), and 
this Tema-Gittel owned two goats, both giving milk. 

“Now, I ask you,” said Tsippa-Baila-Reiza, “why should she 
have two goats, both of them giving milk? What harm 



118 


Sholom Aleichem 

would there be if she had only one? There are plenty 
of people who don’t have even half a goat. And yet they 

live.” 

‘‘You are quite right, my wife,” said Shimmen-Eli. “That 

is an old complaint. As the saying goes ... 

“There he goes again! Another quotation!” interrupted his 
wife. “You talk about a goat and he comes to you with 
quotation. Take my advice. You go to that melamed in Kozo 
doievka and tell him this: ‘It has come to our attention that 
you have two goats, both giving milk. What do you need 
two goats for? For pets? And since you don’t need the two, 
why don’t you sell one of them to me? Will it hurt you?’ 
That’s the only way to talk to these people, you understand?” 

“Of course I understand. Why shouldn t I?” said Shimmen- 
Eli. “For my good money do I have to beg them? With money 
you can get anything in the world. 'Silver and gold, said 
our wise men. ‘make even pigs clean.’ The only thing that’s 
bad is not to have any money at all. As Rashi says, ‘A poor 
man is like a dead man.’ Or as it is written elsewhere, ‘With¬ 
out fingers you can't even thumb your nose.’ Or, as another 
passage so appropriately puts it, ‘Abracadabra . . ” 

“Another passage! Another quotation! My head rings with 
his quotations! Oh, why don’t you sink into the earth!” cried 
Tsippa-Baila-Reiza. “May you be buried nine feet deep!” 
And once more she instructed her husband how to approach 
the melamed, how to feel him out, and how to close the 
deal. 

But suppose he didn’t want to sell his goat? . . . Why 
shouldn’t he want to sell it? Why should he have two goats, 
both of them giving milk? There are so many people who 
don’t have even half a goat. Well, do these people die? They 
manage to live. 

And so on and so on, in the same vein. 



119 


The Enchanted Tailor 


3 

And when it was light, our tailor arose from bed, said his 
prayers, took his staff and a rope, and started off on foot. 

It was Sunday, a bright, warm, summer day. Shimmen-Eli 
could not remember when he had seen a beautiful day like 
this before. He could not remember the last time that he had 
been out in the open country. It had been a long time since 
his eyes had beheld such a fresh green forest, such a rich 
green carpet sprinkled with many-colored flowers. It had 
been a long time since his ears had heard the twitter of 
birds and the fluttering of small wings, such a long time 
since he had smelled the odors of the fresh countryside. 

Shimmen-Eli Shma-Koleimi had spent his life in a differ¬ 
ent world from that. His eyes had beheld entirely different 
scenes: A dark cellar with an oven near the door, with pok¬ 
ers and shovels leaning against it, and nearby a slop-basin 
full to the brim. Near the oven and the basin, a bed made 
of three boards, with a litter of small children on it, half- 
naked, barefoot, unwashed, always hungry. 

His ears had heard entirely different sounds: “Mother, I 
want some bread! Mother, I’m hungry!” And above these 
sounds the voice of Tsippa-Baila-Reiza herself: You want 
to eat? May you eat worms! Together with that father of 
yours, the shlimazl! Oh, dear God in heaven! 

And his nose was accustomed to entirely different odors: 
the odor of damp walls that dripped in winter and molded 
in summer; the odor of sour dough and bran, of onions and 
cabbage, of wet plaster, of fish and entrails; the odor of old 

clothes steaming under the hot iron . . . 

And now, having for the moment escaped from that poor, 
dark, unhappy world into the fragrant, unaccustomed bright¬ 
ness, Shimmen-Eli felt like a man who on a hot summer da> 
dives into the ocean. The water lifts him up, the waves lap 
around him, he floats blissfully, deeply inhaling the fresh, 
salty air. He had never known anything like this before. 



Sholom Aleichem 

Shimmen-Eli walked slowly along thinking to himself, 
“What harm would it do if every workingman could come 
out here at least once a week, here in the open country, and 
enjoy the freedom of God's great world? Ah, what a worlds 
what a world!” And Shimmen-Eli began to hum and then to 
sing under his breath. “Oh, Lord, Thou hast created Thine 
own world out beyond the town. Thou has decreed that we. 
Thy people, should live in Zolodievka, huddled together in 
stilling quarters. And Thou didst give us woe and troubles, 
illness and poverty. These things Thou gavest us, O Lord, in 
Thy boundless mercy . . 

Thus sang Shimmen-Eli under his breath, and he wanted 
to throw himself down on the grass, look up at the blue sky 
and taste just for a moment the sweetness of God's great 
world. But he remembered that he had work to do and he 
said to himself, “Enough, Shimmen-Eli, you have loitered 
enough. On your way, brother! It is time to go! You will 
rest, God willing, when you come to the Oak Tavern, where 
your kinsman, Dodi Rendar, will give you a drink. As the 
passage goes: ‘A drop of whisky gladdens man’s life’ . . 

And Shimmen-Eli Shrna-Koleinu hurried on. 


4 

On the road from Zolodievka, halfway to Kozodoievka, 
there stands a guest house called the Oak Tavern. This tav¬ 
ern has a power, the power of a magnet, which draws to 
itself all travelers who pass by. Whether they are going 
from Zolodievka to Kozodoievka or from Kozodoievka to 
Zolodievka, they all stop at the Oak Tavern, if only for a few 
minutes. No one has ever discovered the secret of this. Some 
say it is because the host, Dodi Rendar, is such a likable 
fellow and so hospitable. That is, for money he will give you a 
good glass of whisky and the best of food. Others say that 
it is because Dodi, although not a thief himself, has dealings 
with all the thieves in the vicinity, and at the same time 



121 


The Enchanted Tailor 


protects all his customers from thieves. But since this is only 
a rumor, perhaps we had better say no more about it. 

This Dodi we speak of was a coarse fellow, fat and hairy, 
with a large belly, a bulbous nose, and the voice of a wild 
boar. He had nothing to worry about. He made a good liv¬ 
ing, owned several cows, was a widower without any ties. He 
had no learning whatsoever; he scarcely knew the difference 
between a Bible and a prayer book. And for this reason 
Shimmen-Eli was ashamed of him. He considered it a dis¬ 
grace that he, a learned man and president of his synagogue, 
should have such a coarse and ignorant lout for a relative. 
And Dodi, for his part, was ashamed to have a worthless 
tailor for a kinsman. Thus each one was ashamed of the 
other. And yet, when Dodi caught sight of Shimmen-Eli, 
he greeted him handsomely, not because he respected his 
kinsman, but because he feared his loud mouth. 

“Oh,” he said cheerfully, “look who’s here! How are you, 
Shimmen-Eli? How is your Tsippa-Baila-Reiza? And how are 
the children?” 

“ ‘What are we and what have we been?’ ” answered Shim¬ 
men-Eli, with a quotation. “How should we be? 'Who shall 
perish in an earthquake and who in a plague?’ Sometime? 
better, sometimes worse . . . The important thing is, we’re 
still alive. As it is written, ‘Abracadabra . . 

“But how are you, my dear kinsman? What is new here 
in the country? How are your vareniki this year? I remember 
the ones you served a year ago with your drinks. Vareniki, 
that’s what’s important to you. The Holy Books mean noth¬ 
ing; you never look into them. Ah, Reb Dodi, Reb Dodi, if 
your father, my Uncle Gedalia-Wolf—may his soul rest in 
peace—were to arise now and see his son living in the coum 
try among peasants, he would die all over again. Ah, what a 
father you had, Reb Dodi! He was a good and pious ma^ 
. . . Ah, yes, no matter what we begin with, we always ar¬ 
rive at death. Come, Reb Dodi, give me a drink. As Reb 
Pimpon says in his sixth book of commentaries, Kapota 
bimashken,' ‘Pawn your shirt, and buy yourself a drink.’ ’* 



Sholom Aleichem 


122 


“So!” said Dodi, bringing him a glass of whisky. “So you’re 
throwing the Bible at me already! Leave that for later, kins¬ 
man. First tell me, Shimmen-Eli, where are you traveling 
to ? ” 

“I am not traveling,” said Shimmen-Eli with a shrug. “I 
am just taking a walk. As we say in our prayers, ‘If you have 
legs you can walk.’ ” 

“If that’s the case,” said Dodi, “then tell me, my dear friend, 
where are your walking to?” 

“To Kozodoievka,” said Shimmen-Eli, making a face. “To 
Kozodoievka to buy goats. As it is written, ‘Thou shalt buy 
thyself goats.’ ” 

“Goats?” asked Dodi in surprise. “How does a tailor come 
to be dealing in goats?” 

“That’s just a way of talking,” said Shimmen-Eli. “What I 
meant actually was just one goat, that is, if the Lord has 
mercy and sends me the right kind of goat, one that won’t 
cost too much. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want a goat, 
but my dear wife, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza—you know what she’s 
like when she makes up her mind—has decided once for all 
that she must have a goat. And a wife, you have always 
maintained, must be obeyed. That’s an old law. It’s in the 
Talmud. You remember what the Talmud says . . 

“About these things,” said Dodi, “you are better informed 
than I am. You know well enough that I’m not even on 
speaking terms with the Talmud. But there is one thing I’d 
like to know, dear kinsman. How do you happen to be such 
an authority on goats?” 

“The same way you’re an authority on prayers!” said 
Shimmen-Eli angrily. “What does an innkeeper know about 
holiness? And yet when Passover comes, you recite the Yom 
Kippur prayers as well as you can, and get by with it!” 

Dodi the innkeeper understood the jibe. He bit his lip and 
thought to himself, “Wait, wait, you worthless tailor, you. 
You’re a little too smart for your own good today. You’re 
showing off your knowledge too much. You’ll get a goat from 
me yet, and you’ll be sorry!” 



123 


The Enchanted Tailor 


And Shimmen-Eli brought the conversation to an end by 
asking for another drink of that strong brew that is a cure 
for all troubles. 

The truth can no longer be held back. Shimmen-Eli loved 
an occasional drink. But a drunkard he was not. God forbid! 
When was he able to buy enough whisky to become a drunk¬ 
ard? And yet he had this weakness: when he took one drink 
he had to have a second. And with the second he became 
quite jolly. His cheeks grew red, his eyes shone, his tongue 
loosened and wagged without stopping. 

“Speaking of guilds,” said Shimmen-Eli, “the one I belong 
to is the Tailors’ Guild. Our emblem: Shears and Iron! Our 
people,” he said, “have this one trait: we all like honors. At 
our synagogue, for instance, the least little shoemaker would 
like to be a chairman of something. If nothing else, then at 
least of the water basin. Says I, ‘My friends, have it your own 
way. I can live without being president. Elect any shoe¬ 
maker you want. I don’t care for the honor and I don’t want 
the headaches.’ But they say, ‘Nonsense! Once you’ve been 
elected you can’t get out of it!’ So I say, ‘It is written in 
our Holy Torah: “Thou shalt take thy beatings and be a 
leader amongst men . . * 

“But there! I’ve talked too much already. It’s getting late. 
I forgot all about my goat. So goodbye, Reb Dodi, be well. 
Say your prayers, and look after your vareniki.” 

“Don’t forget,” replied Dodi. “On your way back, if God 
permits, you must come in again.” 

“If God permits and allows and wills it,” said Shimmen-Eli. 
“After all, I am human, nothing but flesh and blood. Where 
else should I stop? And as for you, be sure there is whisky 
on hand, and a bite to eat. In the meantime, goodbye. And 
remember our motto: Shears and Iron!” 



Sholom Aleichem 


124 


5 

And Shimmen-Eli Shma-Koleinu departed from the Oak Tav¬ 
ern in an exalted mood, cheerful as he could be. And he 
arrived in Kozodoievka without mishap. And as soon as he 
came there he began to inquire where he could find the 
melamed, Chaim-Chana the Wise, who had a wife Tema- 
Gittel the Silent and two goats. He did not have to search 
very long, since Kozodoievka is not such a large town that 
a person can get lost in it. The whole town lies spread out 
before your view. Here are the butchers’ stalls with the cleav¬ 
ers and the dogs. Here is the marketplace where women go 
from one poultry-stand to another, picking up the chickens, 
and pinching and feeling them. 

“What do you want for this hen?” 

“Which hen? Oh, this one! That isn t a hen, it’s a rooster.” 

“So let it be a rooster. But what do you want for it?” 

And two steps farther along is the yard of the synagogue 
where old women sit over small baskets of pears, sunflower- 
seeds and beans; where the teachers conduct their classes and 
children recite their lessons out loud; and where goats—big 
goats, little goats, goats of all descriptions—jump about, pull 
straw off the roofs, or else sit on the ground warming them¬ 
selves in the sun and chewing the cud. And only a few 
steps beyond that is the bath house, with its dark, smoke- 
stained walls. And beyond that, the pond covered with a 
green scum full of leeches and croaking frogs. The pond 
shines in the sun, sparkles like diamonds—and smells to 
high heaven. And on the other side of the pond is nothing 
but earth and sky. That is all there is to Kozodoievka. 

When the tailor arrived at Chaim’s house, he found him 
sitting over the Gamorah in his tallis-kot’n and skullcap, 
leading his pupils in a loud recitation: 

“And—when—the—goat—saw—the—food—that—had— 
been—left—on—the—barrel—she—went—after—it—greed¬ 
ily . . ” 



125 


The Enchanted Tailor 


“‘Abracadabra (T barbanta/ ” said Shimmen-Eli Shma- 
Koleinu in his own Chaldaic, and quickly translated it into 
plain Yiddish. “Good morning to you. Rabbi, and to all your 
pupils. You are in the midst of the very subject about which 
I have come here to see your wife, Tema-Gittel, namely, a 
goat. True, if it depended on me, I would not be buying 
one, but my dear wife Tsippa-Baila-Reiza has set her heart 
on one once for all: she must have a goat. And a wife, you 
will tell me, should be obeyed. The Gamorah says so . . . 
But why are you staring at me like that? Because I am a 
plain workingman? ‘Happy are ye who toil with your hands! 

“No doubt you have heard of me. I am Shimmen-Eli of 
Zolodievka, member of the Tailors’ Guild and president of 
mir synagogue, though I never asked to be chosen. I can 
geV. along without the honor,’ I told them, and you keep the 
beaWigs for yourselves.’ But they shouted, ‘It s too late! Once 
we’vev, picked you, you can’t get out of it! A king and a 
leader you shall be to us. You’ll be our leader, and you’ll 
get the beatings!’ 

“But here I’ve been talking, and I almost forgot to greet 
you properly. How do you do, my Rabbi! How do you do, 
my boys! A fine crew of imps and mischief-makers, I see. 
Anxious to get on with your studies. Am I right? 

Hearing these words, the children began to pinch each 
other under the table and to giggle surreptitiously. They 
were, indeed, pleased with the interruption. They would have 
liked such visitors every day. But Chaim-Chana the Wise was 
not so pleased. He disliked to be interrupted when he was 
teaching. So he called in his wife Tema-Gittel and he him¬ 
self returned with his pupils to the goat which had gotten 
hold of the food on the barrel. And again they began to 

chant at the tops of their voices: 

“And the—Rabbi—decreed—that—the—goat must 

pay—for—the— food—and— for— the— damage—to—the— 

barrel.” 

Shimmen-Eli, seeing that there was no use talking to the 
melamed, turned to his wife, Tema-Gittel the Silent. 



Sholom Aleichem 


126 


“Here I am,” said Shimmen-Eli. “As you see, a plain work¬ 
ingman. You may have heard of me, Shimmen-Eli of Zolo- 
dievka, member of the Tailors’ Guild and president of our 
synagogue (though I didn’t ask for the honor). I have come 
to see you about one of your goats. For my part I wouldn’t 
be buying a goat now, but since my dear wife Tsippa-Baila- 
Reiza has made up her mind that she has to have a 
goat . . 

Tema-Gittel, a tiny woman with a nose like a bean that 
she was always wiping with her two fingers, listened as long 
as she could, and then interrupted: 

“So you want one of my goats, do you? Well, let me tell 
you this, my dear man. I’m not interested in selling the goat. 
For let’s not fool ourselves: why should I sell it? For the 
money you offer? Money is round. It rolls away. But a goat 
is always a goat. Especially a goat like mine. Did I call it 
a goat? A sweetheart, that’s what it is! How easy it is to 
milk her! And the amount of milk she gives! And how 
cheap it is to feed her! What does she eat? A measure of 
bran once a day, and for the rest she nibbles the straw from 
the roof of the synagogue. Still, if you’re ready to pay what 
it’s worth, I might think it over. Money is—how do you say 
it?—a temptation. If I get enough money I can buy another 
goat. Although a goat like mine would be hard to find. Did 
I call it a goat? A sweetheart, I tell you! But wait, why 
waste words? I’ll bring the goat in and you’ll see for your¬ 
self.” 

And Tema-Gittel ran out and came back leading a goat 
and carrying a pitcher full of milk that the goat had given 
that same day. 

At the sight of the milk the tailor could not keep from 
licking his lips. 

“Tell me, my dear woman, how much do you ask for this 
goat of yours? Remember, if it’s too much, I’m not inter¬ 
ested. You see, I don’t even want the animal, but since my 
wife, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza, has set her heart . . .” 

“What do you mean—how much?” burst out Tema-Gittel, 



127 


The Enchanted Tailor 


wiping her tiny nose. “Let’s hear first what you’re willing to 
pay. But let me tell you, no matter how much you pay, you’ll 
be getting a bargain. Because if you buy my goat . . .” 

“Listen to that!” interrupted the tailor. “Why do you sup¬ 
pose I’m buying it? Because it’s a goat! Naturally! I’m not 
looking for a snake, am I? Though to tell you the truth. 
I’d never have thought of buying a goat if my wife 
hadn’t . . 

“That’s what I’m telling you,” Tema-Gittel interrupted in 
her turn and began to recount the virtues of her goat again. 
But the tailor did not let her finish. They kept interrupting 
each other until anyone listening to them would have heard 
something like this: 

“A goat? A sweetheart, not a goat ... I would never be 
buying a goat ... A measure of bran . . . Set her heart 
on it . . . Money is round ... So easy to milk . . . 
Tsippa-Baila-Reiza . . . What does she eat? . . . Once for 
all . . . Straw from the roof of the synagogue ... A wife 
must be obeyed ... A goat? A sweetheart, not a goat!” 

At this point Chaim-Chana broke in. “Maybe you’ve said 
enough about goats already? Who ever heard of such a 
thing? Here I am, right in the midst of a point of law, 
and all I hear is goat, goat, goat, goat! Heavens above! Ei¬ 
ther sell the goat, or don’t sell the goat, but stop talking 
about it. Goats, goats, goats, goats, goats. My head is ringing 
with goats!” 

“The rabbi is right,” said Shimmen-Eli. “Where there is 
learning there is wisdom. Why do we have to talk so much? 
I have the money and you have the goat. That should be 
enough. Three words can settle it. As it is written . . .” 

“What do I care what’s written?” said Tema-Gittel softly, 
arching herself like a cat and brushing her hand back and 
forth over her lips. “Just tell me what you want to pay.” 

“What should I say?” Shimmen-Eli answered as softly 
“Who am I to say? Ah, well, it looks as if I’ve wasted r. 
trip. Apparently I’m not buying a goat today. Forgive nv> 
for bothering you . . .” 



Sholom Aleichem 


128 


And Shimmen-Eli turned to go. 

“Now, look here, my good man,” said Tema-Gittel, catch¬ 
ing him by the sleeve. “What’s your hurry? Is there a fire 
somewhere? It seems to me we were talking about a 
goat ...” 

At last the melamed's wife named her price, the tailor 
named his; they haggled back and forth, and finally agreed. 
Shimmen-Eli counted out the money and tied the rope 
around the goat’s neck. Tema-Gittel took the money, spit on 
it to ward off the Evil Eye, wished the tailor luck, and mut¬ 
tering softly looked from the money to the goat, from the 
goat to the money. And she led the tailor out with many 
blessings. 

“Go in good health, arrive in good health, use the goat in 
good health, and may God grant that she continue to be as 
she has been up to now. No worse. May you have her a 
long time, may she give milk and more milk, and never stop 
giving milk.” 

“Amen,” said the tailor and started to leave. But the goat 
would not budge. She twisted her head, reared up her hind 
legs, and bleated shrilly, like a young cantor trying to im¬ 
press his congregation. 

But Chaim-Chana came to the rescue with the rod he used 
jm the boys, and helped to drive the goat out of the house. 
And the children helped along by shouting: “Koza! Koza! 
Get out, koza!” 

And the tailor proceeded on his way. 


6 

But the goat had no desire to go to Zolodievka. She thrust 
herself against the wall. She twisted and turned and reared 
her hind legs. And Shimmen-Eli pulled at the rope and 
gave her to understand that all her kicking and bucking was 
useless. He said to her: 

“It is written that out of necessity must thou bear thy 



129 


The Enchanted Tailor 


exile. Whether thou wilt or not; nobody asks thee. I, too, 
was once a free Soul, a fine young man with a starched 
shirt and shiny boots that creaked and clattered as I walked. 
What more did I need? A headache? But the Lord said 
unto me, ‘Get thee out of thy country. Crawl, Shimmen-Eli, 
into thy sack. Marry Tsippa-Baila-Reiza. Beget children. Suf¬ 
fer all thy days and thy years. For what art thou but a 
tailor?’ ” 

Thus Shimmen-Eli addressed the goat, and pulling her by 
the rope, he went on his way, quickly, almost at a run. A 
warm breeze ruffled the skirts of his patched gabardine, stole 
under his earlocks and stroked his little beard. It brought to 
his nostrils the fragrance of mint, of rosemary, and other 
herbs and flowers whose heavenly odors he had never smelled 
before. And in a spirit of ecstasy and wonder he began the 
afternoon prayers, very handsomely, with a noble chant like a 
cantor performing in the presence of an admiring congrega¬ 
tion. Suddenly—who knows how?—an Evil Spirit came to 
tempt him, and whispered these words into his ear: 

“Listen to me, Shimmen-Eli, you fool, you! Of all things, 
why burst into song? It is almost evening, you haven't had a 
thing in your mouth all day (except two small glasses of 
whisky), and you gave your kinsman your word of honor 
that on your way home with the goat, if all was well, you 
would stop to have a bite with him. It was a promise, so 
you’ll have to keep it.” 

And Shimmen-Eli finished his prayers as fast as he could. 
Then he made his way to Dodi Rendar’s tavern, entering 
with a joyful greeting on his lips. 

“Good evening to you, dear kinsman, Reb Dodi. I 
have news for you. Congratulate me. ‘I have dwelt with 
Laban . . .’ I have a goat. And such a goat! Straight from 
goatland! A goat such as our fathers and forefathers had 
never known. Look her over, Reb Dodi, and give us your 
opinion. After all, you’re a man of experience. Well, make a 
guess. How much should I have paid for it?” 

Dodi put up his hand to shield his eyes from the setting 



Sholom Aleichem 


130 


sun, and like a true expert appraised the goat—at exactly 
double the figure that Shimmen-Eli had paid. At which Shim- 
men-Eli was so flattered that he slapped the innkeeper 
soundly on the back. 

“Reb Dodi, dear kinsman, long life to you! This one time 
you didn’t guess right! You were all wrong!” 

Reb Dodi pursed his lips and shook his head in speechless 
admiration, as if to say, “What a bargain! You certainly put 
one over that time!” 

Shimmen-Eli in his turn bent his head sideways, and with 
a quick gesture as if he were pulling a needle out of his 
vest and threading it hastily, said, “Well, Reb Dodi, what 
do you say now? Do I know how to look after my own 
affairs, or don’t I? Why, if you saw how much milk she gave, 
you would die on the spot!” 

“I’d rather see you die,” said Dodi in a friendly tone. 

“Amen,” said Shimmen-Eli. “The same to you. And now, 
if I’m such a welcome guest, take my goat, Reb Dodi, and 
put her in the barn where no one can steal her. In the mean¬ 
time I'll say my evening prayers, and then the two of us will 
make a toast and take a bite to eat. As the Megila says, 
‘Before eating, one is not disposed to dance.’ Is that in the 
Megila, Reb Dodi, or is it somewhere else?” 

“Who knows? If you say so, it must be so. After all, you’re 
the scholar around here.” 

When he had finished his prayers, the tailor said to Dodi, 
“ ‘Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; 
for I am faint . . .’ Come, my kinsman, pour out something 
out of that green bottle, and let us drink of it, for our 
health’s sake. Good health, that is our first concern. As we 
say in our prayers every day: ‘Cause us to lie down in peace 
and health . . 

Having taken a couple of drinks and a little to eat, our 
tailor became very talkative. He talked about his home town 
of Zolodievka, the community in general and his synagogue 
and Tailors’ Guild (“Shears and Iron our emblem!”) in par¬ 
ticular. And in the process of his discourse he denounced all 



131 


The Enchanted Tailor 


the leading citizens of the town, the well-to-do and influ¬ 
ential men, and swore that as sure as his name was Shim- 
men-Eli, every one of them deserved to be sent to Siberia. 

“You understand, Reb Dodi?” he rounded out his disser¬ 
tation. “May the devil take them, these givers of charity! Is 
it their own money they give? All they do is suck the blood 
of us poor people. Out of my three rubles a week they make 
me pay twenty-five kopeks! But their time will come, never 
fear. God shall hold them to account! Although to tell you 
the truth, my cherished wife, Tsippa-Baila-Rciza, has long 
told me that I am worse than a shlimazl, a fool and a coward, 
because if I only wanted to use it, I could hold a strong 
whip over them! But who listens to ones wife? After all, I 
have something to say, too. Does not our Holy Torah tell us: 
‘V’hu yimshol b’ cho?’ Shall I translate that for you, kins¬ 
man? ‘V’hu —and he, that is, the husband’— ‘yimshol —shall 
rule!’ But instead, what happens? What should happen? 
Since you have started pouring, so pour a little more. Re¬ 
member what the Bible says: ‘Abracadabra d‘ barbanta!’ ” 

The more Shimmen-Eli talked, the more he wandered. His 
eyelids drooped and soon he was leaning against the wall 
and nodding. His head was bent sideways, his arms were 
crossed over his chest, and in his fingers he held his thin 
little beard like a man deep in thought. Had it not been for 
the fact that he was snoring out loud, a snore that was at 
once a whistling, a wheezing and a blowing, no one in the 
world would have dreamt that he was asleep. 

But though he dozed, his brain worked busily, and he 
dreamed that he was home at his workbench with a strange 
garment spread out in front of him. Was it a pair of trou¬ 
sers? Then where was the crotch? There was no crotch. Was 
it an undershirt? Then why did it have such long sleeves? 
Then what could it be? It had to be something. Shimmen- 
Eli turned it inside out—it was a gabardine. And what a 
gabardine! Brand new, soft and silky to the touch, too new 
to be made into something else. But out of habit he took a 
knife out of his vest pocket and began to look for a seam. 



Sholom Aleichem 


132 


Just then Tsippa-Baila-Reiza rushed in and began to curse 
him: 

“What are you ripping it for? May your entrails be ripped 
out! You green cucumber, you fine kidney bean! Can’t you 
see it’s your Sabbath gabardine that I got for you with the 

money I earned from the goat?” 

And Shimmen-Eli remembered that he had a goat, and he 
rejoiced. Never in his life had he seen so many pitchers of 
milk, so many cheeses, and so much butter—crocks and 
crocks of butter! And the buttermilk, the cream, the clab¬ 
ber! And rolls and biscuits baked with butter, sprinkled with 
sugar and cinnamon! What appetizing odors! Never m his 
life had he smelled such odors. And then another odor crept 
in— a familiar one—pugh! He felt something crawl over his 
neck, under his collar, around his ears and over his face. It 
crawled right up to his nose. He reached out his fingers and 
caught a bedbug. He opened first one eye, then the other, 
stole a look toward the window . . . Good heavens, day was 
breaking! 

“What do you think of that! I must have dozed off!” 
Shimmen-Eli said to himself and shrugged his shoulders. He 
woke up the innkeeper, ran out into the yard, opened the 
barn, took the goat by the rope, and started for home as 
quickly as he could, like a man who is afraid that he will 
miss—the Lord alone knows what. 


7 

When Tsippa-Baila-Reiza saw that it was late and that her 
husband was not yet home, she began to wonder if some evil 
had not befallen him. Perhaps robbers had attacked him on 
the way, murdered him, taken his few rubles away and 
thrown him into a ditch; and here she was, a widow for 
the rest of her days, a widow with so many children. She 
might as well drown herself. All that night she did not shut 



133 


The Enchanted Tailor 


her eyes, and when the first cock crowed at dawn she pulled 
on her dress and went outside and sat down on the doorstep 
to wait for her husband. Maybe God would have mercy and 
send him home. But what could you expect from a shlimazl 
when he goes off by himself, she thought; and she planned 
the welcome that he so richly deserved. 

But when finally he appeared with the goat following on 
the rope behind him—both of them tied to the rope, the 
goat around the neck and Shimmen-Eli around the waist— 
she was so relieved that she greeted him affectionately: 

‘Why so late, my little canary, my almond cake? I thought 
you had been robbed and killed on the way, my treasure.” 

Shimmen-Eli loosened the rope around his waist, took the 
goat into the house, and breathlessly began to tell Tsippa- 
Baila-Reiza all that had happened to him. 

“Behold, my wife, the goat which I have brought to you. 
A goat straight from goatland. The kind of goat that our 
forefathers dreamt about but never saw. She eats only once 
a day, a measure of bran, and otherwise she nibbles the 
straw from the roof of the synagogue. Milk she gives like a 
cow, twice a day. I saw a full pail with my eyes, I swear. 
Did I call it a goat? A sweetheart, not a goat. At least 
that’s what Tema-Gittel said. And such a bargain! I practi¬ 
cally stole it from her. Six and a half rubles was all I paid. 
But how long do you think I had to bargain with the 
woman? Actually she didn’t want to sell the goat. All night 
long I had to fight with her.” 

And while he spoke, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza thought to her¬ 
self: “So Nechama-Brocha thinks she’s the only person in 
town who amounts to something! She can have a goat and 
the rest of us can’t? Now watch her eyes pop out when 
she sees Tsippa-Baila-Reiza with a goat too! And Bluma- 
Zlata? And Haya-Mata? Friends they call themselves, well- 
wishers. May they have only half the misfortune they wish 
me!” 

And meanwhile she made a fire in the stove and began to 



134 


Sholom Aleichem 

prepare some buckwheat noodles for breakfast. And Shim- 
men-Eli put on his tallis and tfillin and started the morning 

prayers. 

It was a long time since he had prayed with such feeling. 
He sang like a cantor on a holiday and made so much noise 
that he woke the children. When they found out from their 
mother that their father had brought home a goat and that 
she was cooking noodles with milk, they screamed with joy, 
sprang out of their bed still in their nightgowns, and taking 
each other’s hands, started to dance in a circle. And while 
they danced, they sang this song they had just made up: 

"A goat, a goat, a little goat! 

Papa brought a little goat! 

The goat will give us mi-i-lk 
And Mama will make noodles!” 

Watching his children dancing and singing, Shimmen-Eli 
expanded with pleasure. “Poor children,” he thought, so ea¬ 
ger for a little milk. That’s all right, my children. Today 
you'll have as much milk as you want. And from now on 
you'll have a glass of milk every day, kasha with milk, and 
milk with your tea. A goat is really a blessing. Now let 
Fishel charge as much for his meat as he wants to. He al¬ 
ways nave us bones instead of meat, so let him choke on his 
bones. What do I need his meat for if we have milk? For 
the Sabbath? For Sabbath we can buy fish. Where is it writ¬ 
ten that a Jew must eat meat? I have not seen a law on that 
anywhere. If all good Jews only listened to me, they would 
all buy themselves goats.” 

With these thoughts Shimmen-Eli Shma-Koleinu put 
away his tallis and tfillin, washed himself, made a benedic¬ 
tion over a slice of bread, and sat down to wait for the noo¬ 
dles. Instead, the door flew open and in rushed Tsippa-Baila- 
Reiza with an empty pail, sputtering with anger, her face 
aflame. And a shower of curses began to descend on the head 
of poor Shimmen-Eli—not curses but burning stones. Fire 
and brimstone poured from Tsippa-Baila-Reiza’s mouth. 



135 


The Enchanted Tailor 


“May your father, that drunkard, move over in his grave 
and make room for you!” she cried. “May you turn into a 
stone, a bone! May you end in hell! I could shoot you, hang 
you, drown you, roast you alive! I could cut you, slice you, 
chop you to pieces! Go, you robber, murderer, apostate! Take 
a look at the goat you brought me! May a scourge descend 
upon your head and arms and legs! God in heaven! Dear, 
true, loving Father!” 

That was all that Shimmen-Eli heard. Pulling his cap 
down over his eyes, he went out of the house to see the 
misfortune that had befallen him. 

Coming outside and seeing the goat tethered to the gate¬ 
post calmly chewing her cud, he stood fixed in his tracks, 
not knowing what to do or where to turn. He stood there 
thinking and thinking, and at last said to himself. Let me 
die with the Philistines!’ I'll get even with them yet, that 

me lamed and his wife! They found the right person to play 

tricks on! I’ll show them a few tricks they won’t forget. He 
looked so innocent, too, that melamed: he didn’t want any¬ 
thing to do with the whole transaction. And this is what he 
did to me ... No wonder the children laughed when the 
rabbi led me out with the goat and his w'ife wished all that 

milk onto us . . . Milk I’ll give them! I’ll milk the blood 

out of those holy Kozodoievkites, those cheats, those swin¬ 
dlers!” 

And once more he set out for Kozodoievka, with the inten¬ 
tion of giving the teacher and his wife what they had com¬ 
ing .. . 

A little later, passing by the Oak Tavern and seeing the 
innkeeper in the doorway, with his pipe between his teeth, 
our tailor burst out laughing. 

“What are you so happy about?” asked the innkeeper. 

“What are you laughing for?” 

“Listen to this,” said the tailor, “and maybe you’ll laugh, 
too.” And he roared as though ten devils were tickling him. 
“Well, what do you think of my luck? Everything has to 
happen to me! You should have heard what I got from my 



Sholom Aleichem IJD 

wife this morning—what Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen 
got from the Lord. She served it up in every kind of dish, 
and I had to take it on an empty stomach. If I could only 
pass it on to the mela/ned and his wife! Believe me, 111 
never let them get away with it. It will be an eye for an eye 
and a tooth for a tooth. I don’t like to have people play 
tricks like this on me. But come, Dodi, put this cursed goat 
into the barn for a few minutes, and then pour me a drink. 
I’m a troubled man. I need a little strength before I face 
those people again. 

“Ah, Reb Dodi, here's to your health. We’re still men, 
that’s the main thing. And remember what we are enjoined 
in the Bible: Do not worry . . You can be sure that I’ll 
siive them something to think about before this morning is 
over. I’ll show them how to play tricks on a member of the 
Tailors' Guild (Shears and Iron our emblem!).” 

“Who told you it was a trick?” asked the innkeeper in¬ 
nocently, puffing away at his pipe. “Maybe you made a mis¬ 
take in picking the goat?” 

Shimmen-Eli nearly sprang at the innkeeper’s throat. “Do 
you know what you’re saying? I came and asked for a goat 
that would give milk, even as Jacob asked for Rachel. And 

I was tricked just as he was!” 

Dodi puffed at his pipe, shrugged his shoulders, and threw 
up his hands as if to say, “Is it my fault? What can I do 
about it?” 

And once more Shimmen-Eli took his goat and went on 
his way to Kozodoievka. And his anger burned within him. 


8 

And the teacher labored with his pupils, still on the same 
section in the Gamorah dealing with damages and injuries. 
Their voices resounded over the whole synagogue yard: 

“The—cow—swung—her—tail—and—she—broke—the— 
pitcher!” 



137 


The Enchanted Tailor 


“Good morning to you, my Rabbi, and to you boys, and 
to all Israel,” said Shimmen-Eli. “Give me a minute of your 
time, I pray you. The cow won't run away, and the broken 
pitcher surely will not mend itself! 

“That was a fine trick you played on me, Rabbi. No doubt 
it was a joke, but I don’t like such jokes. It's too much like 
that story about the two men who were taking their bath 
one Friday afternoon, stretched out on the top ledge at the 
bath house. Said one of the men to the other, ‘Here is my 
besom. Whip me with it.’ And the other, taking the besom, 
beat him till he was bleeding. Said the first, ‘Listen, my 
friend! If I have wronged you and you want to pay me 
back now while I am naked and helpless, that is very well. 
But if you are doing it as a joke, I want to tell you: I don’t 
care for such jokes!’ ” 

“What is the point of that?” asked the melamed, taking off 
his glasses and scratching his ear with them. 

“This is the point. Why did you trick me that way—giv¬ 
ing me a goat like this? For that kind of trick,” he said, 
showing him an open hand, “you may get something in re¬ 
turn! You needn’t think you’re dealing with just anybody! 
I’m Shimmen-Eli of Zolodievka, member of the Tailors’ 
Guild and president of our synagogue (Shears and Iron our 
emblem!).” 

The tailor was so excited that he shook all over, and the 
melamed, putting on his glasses, stared at him in amaze¬ 
ment. The whole room rocked with laughter. 

“Why do you look at me like a crazy fool?” demanded 
the tailor angrily. “I come here and buy a goat from you, and 
you send me home with—the devil alone knows what! 

“You don’t like my goat?” the teacher asked, slowly. 

“The goat? If that’s a goat, then you’re the governor of 

this province.” 

The boys burst into laughter anew. And at this point 
Tema-Gittel the Silent came in and the real battle started. 
Shimmen-Eli yelled at Tema-Gittel and Tema-Gittel yelled 
back. The melamed looked from one to the other, and the 



Sholom Aleichem 100 

boys laughed louder and louder. Tema-Gittel shrieked, Shim- 
men-Eli roared, with neither yielding, till Tema-Gittel caught 
the tailor by the hand and pulled him out through the door. 

“Come!” she cried. “Come to the rabbi. Let the whole 
world see how a Zolodievka tailor can persecute innocent 
people—slander them!” 

“Yes, let’s go,” said Shimmen-Eli. “Certainly let the world 
see how people who are considered honest, even holy, can 
rob a stranger and ruin him. As we say in our prayers, ‘We 
have become a mockery and a derision . . And you come 
too, melamed .” 

Whereupon the melamed put on his plush hat over his 
skullcap, and the four of them went to the rabbi together— 
the tailor, the melamed, his wife, and the goat. 

When the delegation arrived, they found the rabbi saying 
his prayers. When he was through, he gathered up the skirts 
of his long coat and seated himself on his chair, an ancient 
relic that was little more than feet and armrests, shaky as the 
last teeth of an old man. 

When he had finished hearing both parties, who had 
hardly let each other talk, the rabbi sent for the elders and 
the shochet and the other leading citizens of the town, and 
when they arrived he said to the tailor: 

“Now be so kind as to repeat your story from beginning 
to end, and then we'll let her tell hers.” 

And Shimmen-Eli willingly told his story all over again. 
He told them who he was—Shimmen-Eli of Zolodievka, 
member of the Tailors’ Guild and president of the synagogue 
(though he needed that honor like a headache). Harassed 
by his wife, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza, who was suddenly deter¬ 
mined to have a goat, he had come to Kozodoievka, and 
there had bought from the melamed an animal that was sup¬ 
posed to be a goat. But it turned out that these people had 
taken away his money and passed off on him the devil alone 
knew what—possibly as a joke, but he, Shimmen-Eli, hated 
such jokes. “No doubt you have heard,” he said, “the story of 



139 


The Enchanted Tailor 


the two men who were taking their bath on a Friday after¬ 
noon . . 

And the tailor, Shimmen-Eli, repeated the story of the 
bath, and the rabbi and the elders and the other leading 
citizens nodded their heads and smiled. 

“Now that we have heard one side,” said the rabbi, “let us 
hear the other.” 

At this Chaim-Chana the Wise arose from his seat, pulled 
his plush hat down over his skullcap, and began: 

“Hear me, O Rabbi, this is my story, just like this. I was 
sitting with my pupils, sitting and studying, I was studying 
the Order of Injuries, that’s what we were studying. Bubi- 
Kanui? Yes, Bubi-Kama. And there walks in this man from 
Zolodievka, and he says he’s from Zolodievka, from Zolo- 
dievka, you understand, and he greets me and tells me a long 
story. He tells me that he’s from Zolodievka, a Zolodievkite, 
that is, and he has a wife whose name is Tsippa-Baila-Reiza. 
Yes, I’m sure it’s Tsippa-Baila-Reiza. At least so it seems to 
me. Isn’t that it?” 

And he leaned over to the tailor questioningly, and the 
tailor, who had been standing all this time with his eyes 
shut, fingering his little beard, his head a little to one side, 
swaying back and forth, answered, “That is true. She has all 
three names, Tsippa and Baila and Reiza. She has been 
called by these names as long as I have known her, which 
is now—let’s see—about thirty years. And now, my dear 
friend, let’s hear what else you have to say. Don’t go wander¬ 
ing. Get down to business. Tell them what I said and what 
you said. In the words of King Solomon, 'Beat not around 
the bush.’ ” 

“But I don’t know anything about it. I don’t,” said the 
melamed, frightened, and pointed to his wife. “She talked 
to him. She did the talking. She made the deal with him. I 
don’t know anything.” 

“Then,” said the rabbi, “let’s hear what you have to say.” 
And he pointed to the melamed’s wife. 



140 


Sholom Aleichem 

Tema-Gittel wiped her lips, leaned her chin on one hand 
and with the other began to tell her side of the story. She 
talked quickly, without stopping for breath, and her face 
grew redder and redder as she spoke. 

“Listen to me,” she said. “Here is the real story of what 
happened. This tailor from Zolodievka is either crazy or 
drunk or just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Have 
you ever heard of such a thing? A man comes to me all the 
way from Zolodievka and fastens himself to us like a grease 
spot. He won’t leave us alone. He insists: I must sell him a 
goat. (As you know, I had two of them.) 

“The tailor makes a speech. He himself would not be buy¬ 
ing a goat, but since his wife Tsippa-Baila-Reiza has set her 
heart on a goat, and a wife, he says, must be obeyed . . . 
Do you follow me, Rabbi? So I told him, ‘What difference 
does that make to me? You want to buy a goat? I’ll sell 
you a goat. That is, I wouldn’t sell it for any amount, for 
what is money? Money is round. It rolls away, but a goat 
remains a goat, and especially a goat like this. It’s a sweet¬ 
heart, not a goat. So easy to milk! And the milk she gives! 
And what does she eat? Once a day a measure of oats, and 
for the rest some straw from the roof of the synagogue.’ 

“But thinking it over, I decided: after all, I have two 
goats, and money is a temptation. Anyway, at this point my 
husband told me to make up my mind, and we agreed on 
the price. How much do you think it was? May my ene¬ 
mies never have any more than we asked for that goat. And 
I gave him the goat, a treasure of a goat. And now he comes 
back, this tailor does, and tries to tell me that it’s not a goat. 
It doesn’t give milk. Do you know what? Here is the goat. 
Give me a milk pail, and I’ll milk her right here in front 
of your eyes.” 

And she borrowed a pail from the rabbi’s wife and milked 
the goat right there in front of their eyes, and she brought 
the milk to each one separately to see. First, naturally, to 
the rabbi, then to the elders, then to the other leading citi- 



141 


The Enchanted Tailor 


zens, and finally to the assembled populace. And such a 
clamor arose! Such a tumult! This one said, “We must pun¬ 
ish this Zolodievka tailor. Let him buy drinks for us all.” 
Another said, “Punishing him like this is not enough. We 
ought to take away the goat.” Still another said, “The goat is 
a goat. Let him keep it. Let him enjoy it to a ripe old age. 
What we ought to do is give him a few good kicks and 
send him and the goat both to the devil!” 

When he saw this turn of events, Shimmen-Eli quietly 
slipped out of the rabbi’s house, and disappeared. 


9 

The tailor hastened away from the angry multitude like a 
man running from a fire. From time to time he looked back 
to see if anyone was following him, and he thanked the 
Lord for having escaped without a beating. 

When he approached the Oak Tavern, Shimmen-Eli said to 
himself: “He’ll never get the truth out of me.” 

“Well, what happened?” asked Dodi with feigned in¬ 
terest. 

“What should happen?” said Shimmen-Eli. “People have 
respect for a man like me. They can’t play tricks on me. 
After all. I’m not a schoolboy. I showed them a few things. I 
had a little discussion with the melamed too, about a few 
points in the Gamorah, and we found out that I knew more 
than he did. Anyway, to make a long story short, they begged 
my pardon and gave me the goat I had bought. Here she is. 
Take her for a little while, my kinsman, and then give me a 
drink.” 

“He is not only a braggart,” thought Dodi to himself, 
“but a liar as well. I’ll have to play the same game once 
more and see what he’ll say next time.” 

And to the tailor he said: “I have just the thing for you— 

a glass of old cherry wine.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


142 


“Cherry wine!” said Shimmen-Eli and licked his lips in 
anticipation. “Bring it out and I’ll tell you what I think of 
it. Not everyone knows what good wine is.” 

When he had drained the first glass, the tailor’s tongue 
began wagging again. He said, “Tell me, dear kinsman, 
you’re no fool and you have dealings with many people. Tell 
me, do you believe in magic, in illusions?” 

“For instance?” asked Dodi, innocently. 

“Why,” said Shimmen-Eli, “dybbuks, elves, evil spirits of 
all sorts, wandering souls . . 

“What makes you ask?” said Dodi, puffing at his pipe. 

“Just like that,” said Shimmen-Eli, and went on talking 
about sorcerers, witches, devils, gnomes, werewolves. 

Dodi pretended to listen attentively, smoked his pipe, and 
then he spat and said to the tailor, “Do you know what, 
Shimmen-Eli? I’ll be afraid to sleep tonight. I’ll tell you the 
truth: I have always been afraid of ghosts, but from now on 
I’ll believe in dybbuks and gnomes as well.” 

“Can you help yourself?” said the tailor. “Try not believ¬ 
ing! Just let one good gnome come along and start playing 
tricks on you—upset your borsht, pour out your water, empty 
all your pitchers, break your pots, tie knots in the fringes of 
your tall is kot'n, throw a cat into your bed and let it lie on 
your chest like a ten-pound weight . . 

“Enough! Enough!” begged the innkeeper, spitting to 
ward off spirits. “Don’t ever tell me stories like that so late 
at night!” 

“Goodbye, Reb Dodi. Forgive me for teasing you. You 
know I’m not to blame. As the saying is, ‘The old woman 
had no troubles . . You know that saying, don’t you? 
Well, good night . . 


10 

When the tailor returned to Zolodievka he walked into the 
house boldly, determined to give his wife a piece of his 



143 


The Enchanted Tailor 


mind; but he controlled himself. After all, what can you ex¬ 
pect from a woman? And for the sake of harmony he told 
her this story: 

“Believe me, Tsippa-Baila-Reiza, in spite of what you 
think, people have to look up to me. I wish you could have 
seen what I gave that melamed and his wife! It was as much 
as they could take. And then I dragged them off to the 
rabbi and he ruled that they must pay a fine, because when a 
man like Shimmen-Eli comes to buy a goat from them, he 
deserves the greatest consideration, for this Shimmen-Eli, 
says the rabbi, is a man who . . 

But Tsippa-Baila-Reiza did not want to hear any more 
about the praise that had been showered on her husband. 
What she wanted was to see the real goat he had now 
brought with him, so she took her pail again and ran out of 
the house. But it was not long before she came running 
back, speechless with anger. Catching Shimmen-Eli by the 
collar, she gave him three good shoves, pushed him out of 
the house, and told him to go to the devil together with his 
goat. 

Outside, a crowd of men, women and children quickly 
gathered around the tailor and his goat, and he told them 
the story of the goat which in Kozodoievka had given milk, 
but every time he brought her home was no longer a she- 
goat. With many oaths he swore that he himself had seen 
the full pail of milk that she had given in the rabbi’s house. 
More and more people came by, examined the goat with 
deep interest, listened to the story, asked to have it repeated, 
and wondered greatly at it. Others laughed and teased him, 
still others shook their heads, spat on the ground, and said. 
“A fine goat that is. If that’s a goat, then I’m the rabbi’s 
wife!” 

“What then is it?” asked the tailor. 

“A demon, can’t you see? It’s possessed. It’s a gilgul” 

The crowd caught the word gilgul, and soon they all be¬ 
gan to tell each other stories about spirits and ghosts, in¬ 
cidents that had occurred right here in Zolodievka, in Kozo- 



144 


Sholom Aleichem 

doievka, in Yampoli, in Pischi-Yaboda, in Haplapovitch, in 
Petchi-Hvost, and other places. Who had not heard the story 
of Lazer-Wolf’s horse that had to be taken out beyond the 
town, killed, and buried in a shroud? Or about the fowl 
which had been served up for a Sabbath dinner, and when 
it was placed on the table began to flap its wings? Or many 
other such true and well-known happenings? 

After several more minutes of this, Shimmen-Eli pulled 
once more at his rope and proceeded again on his way to 
Kozodoievka, followed by a band of schoolboys shouting, 
“Hurrah for Shimmen-Eli! Hurrah for the milking tailor! 

And everybody roared with laughter. 

At this the tailor was deeply hurt. As if it were not 
enough to have this misfortune happen to him, they made a 
laughing-stock of him too. So, taking the goat, he went 
through the town and sounded an alarm among the mem¬ 
bers of his Guild. How could they stand by and be silent 
at such an outrage? And he told them the whole story of 
what had happened to him in Kozodoievka, showed them the 
goat, and at once they sent for liquor, held a meeting, and 
decided to go to the rabbi, the elders, and the leading citi¬ 
zens of the community and ask them to come to their aid. 
Why, who had ever heard of such an outrage? To cheat a 
poor tailor, take away his last few rubles, supposedly sell him 
a goat and actually palm off the devil alone knew what! And 
then to play the same trick on him a second time! Such an 
outrage had never been heard of even in Sodom! 

And the delegation came to the rabbi, the elders and the 
leading men of the town and raised a hue and cry. Why, 
who had ever heard of such an outrage? To cheat a poor 
tailor, rob him of his last few rubles? And they recounted 
the story of the tailor and his goat in all its details. 

The rabbi, the elders, and the leading men of the town 
listened to the complaints, and that evening held a meeting 
at the rabbi’s house, where it was decided to write a letter 
then and there to the rabbi, elders and leading men of 
Kozodoievka. And this they did, producing a letter in classi- 



145 


The Enchanted Tailor 


cal Hebrew, written in a style as lofty as the occasion de¬ 
manded. 

And here is the letter, word for word, as it was written: 

“To the honorable Rabbi, Elders, Sages, renowned scholars, 
pillars who uphold and support the entire house of Israel! 
Joy unto you and joy unto everyone within the sacred com¬ 
munity of Kozodoievka! May all that is good come unto you 
and remain with you. Amen. 

“It has come to our attention, worthy Rabbi and Elders, 
that a great wrong has been committed unto one of our 
towns-people, the tailor Shimmen-Eli, son of Bendit-Leib, 
known also as Shimmen-Eli Shma-Koleinu, as follows: 

“Two of your inhabitants, the melamed Chaim-Chana and 
his spouse Tema-Gittel, did with cunning extort the follow¬ 
ing sum, six and one-half rubles in silver, which they took 
unto themselves, and wiping their lips said, ‘We have done 
no wrong.’ Now, mark you, honorable sirs, such things are 
not done by Jews! All of us here undersigned are witnesses 
that this tailor is a poor workingman and has many children 
whom he supports by the honest toil of his hands. As King 
David says in the Book of Psalms: ‘When thou eatest the 
labor of thy hands, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well 
with thee.’ And our sages have interpreted it thus: happy 
in this world, and well in the next world. Therefore do we 
beg you to search out and inquire as to what has been done, 
so that your judgment may shine forth like the sun and you 
may pass this proper decision: that either the tailor receive 
his money back entirely or that he be given the goat that 
he had bought, for that one which he brought home with 
him is not truly a goat! To this last fact our whole town 
can swear. 

“Then let there be peace among us. As our sages have 
said, ‘There is nothing so blessed as peace.’ Peace unto you, 
peace unto the farthest and the nearest, peace unto all Israel. 
Amen. 

“From us, your servants . . .” 

And then they all signed their names. First the rabbi him- 



Sholom Aleichem 


146 


self, then the elders, then the leading citizens, and then, one 
after the other, proudly if not always legibly, the entire 
membership of the Tailors’ Guild. 


11 

And it came to pass that night that the moon shone down 
on Zolodievka and on all its bleak tumbledown little houses 
huddled together without yards, without trees, without 
fences, like gravestones in an old cemetery. And though the 
air was by no means fresh and the odors of the square and 
the marketplace were hardly pleasant and the dust was thick 
everywhere, nevertheless the people all came out, like 
roaches from their cracks, men and women, old people and 
little children, for “a breath of fresh air” after the stifling 
hot day. They sat on their stoops, talking, gossiping, or sim¬ 
ply looking up at the sky, watching the face of the moon 
and the myriads of stars that, if you had eighteen heads, you 
could not count. 

All that night Shimmen-Eli the tailor wandered by him¬ 
self through the side streets and alleys of the little town 
with his goat, hiding from the small mischief-makers who 
had followed him all through the day. He thought that when 
it was light enough he would start back again toward Kozo- 
doievka. And meanwhile he slipped into Hodel’s tavern to 
take a drink for his sorrow’s sake; unburden his heart, and 
seek the sympathetic tavern-keeper’s advice in his grievous 
plight. 

Hodel the tavern-keeper was a widow, a woman with 
brains, who knew all the public officials and was a good 
friend in need to all the workingmen in town. As a girl she 
had been known as a great beauty and had almost married a 
wealthy man, an excise collector. The story went that once 
when he was passing through Zolodievka the collector had 
seen her leading some geese to the shochet, and wanted to 
marry her at once. But the town gossiped so much that the 



147 


The Enchanted Tailor 


match fell through. Later, against her will, she married some 
poor fellow, an epileptic, and again the tongues of the gos¬ 
sips began to wag. They said she was still in love with the 
exciseman, and they made up this song about her, a song 
which the women and maidens still sing to this day in 
Zolodievka. 

It starts like this: 

The moon was shining. 

It was the middle of the night. 

Hodel sat at her door. 

And it ends with these words: 

7 love you, my soul, 

Without end. 

I cannot live without you. 

And it was to this same Hodel that our tailor now poured 
out his heart. It was to her that he came for advice. “What 
shall I do?” he asked. “Tell me. After all, you are not only 
beautiful but wise. As King David—or who was it?—said in 
the Song of Songs: ‘I am black but comely, O ye daughters 
of Jerusalem.’ So tell me what to do.” 

“What can you do?” answered Hodel, and spat vigorously. 
“Can’t you see it’s an evil spirit? What are you keeping it 
for? Get rid of her. Throw her out. Or the same thing may 
happen to you that once happened to my Aunt Pearl, may 
she rest in peace.” 

"And what happened to her?” asked Shimmen-Eli, fright¬ 
ened. 

“This,” said Hodel, with a sigh. “My Aunt Pearl was a 
good honest woman (all of us have been good and honest 
in our family, though here in this forsaken town—may it 
burn to the ground—everybody always has the worst to say 
about everyone). Well, one day my Aunt Pearl was going 
to market and on the ground in front of her she saw a spool 
of thread. ‘A spool of thread,’ she thought, ‘comes in handy,’ 
so she bent down and picked it up. The spool jumped in 



148 


Sholom Aleiehem 

her face and then fell to the ground. She bent down and 
picked it up again. Again it jumped in her face and again 
fell down. This happened again and again till at last she 
spit on it, said, ‘Let the devil take it,’ and started back home. 
Once or twice she looked back, and there was the spool of 
thread rolling after her. Well, she came home frightened to 
death, fell in a faint, and was sick for almost a whole year 
afterward. Now, what do you think that was? Tell me. 
Guess.” 

‘‘Ah, they’re all alike, these women!” said Shimmen-Eli. 
‘‘Old wives’ tales, nonsense, poppycock! If you wanted to 
listen to what women babbled about, you’d soon be afraid 
of your own shadow. It is truly written: ‘And a voice was 
given unto them.’ Geese, that’s what they are! But never 
mind. That is life; don’t worry. Good night. Good night to 

you.” 

And Shimmen-Eli went on his way. 

The night was sprinkled with stars. The moon floated past 
clouds that were like tall dark mountains inlaid with silver. 
With half a face the moon looked down on the town of 
Zolodievka sunk in deep slumber. Some of the people of 
the town who were afraid of bedbugs had gone to sleep out¬ 
doors, had covered their faces with homespun sheets and 
were snoring lustily, dreaming sweet dreams, dreams of prof¬ 
itable transactions, of considerate landlords, of baskets of 
food brought home, dreams of wealth and honor, or of 
honor alone: all sorts of dreams. There was not a living 
creature on the streets. Not a sound was to be heard. Even 
the butchers’ dogs who had barked and fought all day, now 
burrowed themselves between the logs in the back yard, hid 
their muzzles in their paws, and slept. From time to time a 
short bark escaped one of them when he dreamed of a bone 
that another dog was gnawing or of a fly that was buzzing 
in his ear. Now and then a beetle flew by, humming like 
the string of a bass violin, zh-zh-zh-zh, then fell to the 
ground and was silent. Even the town watchman who went 
around every night, keeping an eye on the stores and rattling 



149 


The Enchanted Tailor 


his sticks over the windows, had this night become drunk, 
and leaning against a wall, fell fast asleep. In this silence 
Shimmen-Eli was the only one awake, not knowing whether 
to move or to stand still or to sit down. 

He walked and muttered to himself, “The old woman had 
no troubles, so she bought herself a horse . . . Oh, this goat, 
this goat! May it break a leg and die! A goat? Yes, a goat. 
A little goat. Chad gadyo, chad gadyo. One little goat . . 

He burst out laughing and was frightened by his own 
laughter. Passing by the old synagogue renowned for the 
spirits of dead men who prayed there every Saturday night 
in their shrouds and prayer shawls, he thought he heard a 
weird singing as of the wind blowing down a chimney on a 
winter night. And quickly turning away he found himself 
near the Russian church, from whose steeple a strange bird 
whistled shrilly. A terrible fear seized him. He tried to take 
heart, to steel himself with a prayer, but the words would 
not come. 

Then looming before his eyes he saw the forms of friends 
long dead. And he remembered the terrifying stories he had 
heard in bygone days of devils, spirits, vampires, ghouls, gob¬ 
lins, of strange creatures that moved on tiny wheels, of some 
that walked on their hands, others that looked at you through 
a single eye, and spirits that wandered through eternity in 
long white shrouds. Shimmen-Eli began to think that the 
goat he was leading was really not a goat at all, but a sprite 
of some sort that at any moment would stick out its long, 
pointed tongue, or flap a pair of wings and utter a loud 
cock-a-doodle-doo. He felt his head whirling. He stopped, 
loosened the rope that had been tied around his waist, and 
urged the goat to leave him. But the goat would not budge. 
Shimmen-Eli took a few steps; the goat followed. He turned 
to the right; so did the goat. He turned left; the goat did 
too. 

“Shma Yisroel!” screamed Shimmen-Eli, and started to run 
as fast as he could. And as he ran he imagined that some¬ 
one was chasing him and mocking him in a thin, goatlike 



150 


Sholom Aleichem 

voice, but the words were the words of a human: Blessed 
art thou . . . O Lord . . . who quickenest the dead . . 


12 

When the next day dawned and the men arose to go to the 
synagogue, the women to market, and the young girls to 
lead the animals to pasture, they found Shimmen-Eli sitting 
on the ground and near him the goat, wagging his beard and 
chewing the cud. When they spoke to the tailor he did not 
answer. He sat like a graven image staring in front of him. 
Quickly a crowd gathered; people came running from all 
over town, and a hubbub arose: “Shimmen-Eli . . . goat 
. . . Shma-Koleinu . . . gilgul . . . demons . . . spirits . . . 
werewolves . . .” Rumors flew about, with everybody tell¬ 
ing a different story. Someone said he had seen him riding 
through the night. 

“Who rode whom?” asked a man, sticking his head into 
the circle. “Did Shimmen-Eli ride the goat or did the goat 
ride Shimmen-Eli?” 

The crowd burst out laughing. 

“What are you laughing at?” a workingman burst out. 
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Grown men with 
beards. Married men with families. Shame on you! Making 
fun of a poor tailor. Can’t you see the man is not himself? 
He is a sick man. Instead of standing around sharpening 
your teeth, it would be better if you took him home and 
called the doctor!” 

These words brought the people to their senses, and they 
stopped laughing at once. Someone ran off for water, others 
to get Yudel the healer. They took Shimmen-Eli under the 
arms, led him home and put him to bed. Soon Yudel came 
running with all his paraphernalia and began to work on 
him. He rubbed him, blew into his face, applied leeches, 
tapped his vein and drew a panful of blood. 

“The more blood we draw,” explained Yudel, “the better 



151 


The Enchanted Tailor 


it will be, for all illnesses come from within, from the blood 
itself.” And after presenting this bit of medical theory 
Yudel promised to come again in the evening. 

And when Tsippa-Baila-Reiza saw her husband stretched 
out on the broken old couch, covered with rags, his eyes 
rolled upward, his lips parched, raving in fever, she began 
to wring her hands, beat her head against the wall, wailed 
and wept as one weeps for the dead. 

“Woe is me, wind is me! What will become of me now? 
What will become of me and all my children?” 

And the children, naked and barefoot, gathered about 
their mother and joined her in her lamentations. The older 
ones wept silently, hiding their faces; the smaller ones who 
did not understand what had happened wailed out loud. And 
the youngest of all, a little boy of three, with a pinched 
yellow face, stood close to his mother with his tiny crooked 
legs and protruding belly and screamed loudest of all. “Ma¬ 
ma! I’m hun-gry!” 

All the neighbors came to find out how Shimmen-Eli was, 
but the sight of the poor tailor and his family was so heart¬ 
rending that nobody could stay long. Only a few women 
remained, and stood with tear-stained faces near Tsippa- 
Baila-Reiza, their noses red from blowing, their mouths 
working, shaking their heads as though to say, “Poor Tsippa- 
Baila-Reiza. Nothing can help her now.” 

Wonder of wonders! For fifty years Shimmen-Eli Shma- 
Koleinu had lived in Zolodievka in poverty and oppression. 
For fifty years he had lain in obscurity. No one spoke of 
him, no one knew what sort of man he was. But now that 
he was so close to death, the town suddenly became aware of 
all his virtues. It suddenly became known that he had been a 
good and kind man, generous and charitable; that is to say, 
he had forced money out of the rich and divided it among 
the poor. He had fought everybody for those poor people, 
fought staunchly, and had shared his last bite with others. 
These and many other things they told about the poor tailor, 
as people tell about a dead man at his funeral. And they all 


Sholom Aleichem 

came to see him from all directions. They did everything they 
could to save him, to keep him from dying before his time. 


13 

And when the sun had set and night had fallen, the mem¬ 
bers of the Tailors’ Guild came together at Hodel’s tavern, 
ordered whisky, and called a meeting. They argued, shouted, 

ranted, pounded on the table. 

“Why isn’t something done? A fine town like Zolodievka 
—may it burn to the ground!—with so many rich people 
in it, and not one of them willing to lift a finger! They all 
live off the sweat of us, and none of them will help us. 
Who puts all the money into the community fund? We do. 
Who is skinned alive to support the shochet, the bath house, 
the synagogue? We are! Do we have to stand for every¬ 
thing? Come on, let’s go to the rabbi and the elders. Now 
it’s their turn to be useful. They’ll have to keep his family 

alive! Come, let us deal with them!” 

And they went to the rabbi with their complaint. In reply, 
the rabbi read to them the letter that had just been brought 
by a teamster from Kozodoievka. And this is what it said: 

“To the honorable Rabbis, Elders, Sages and scholars of 
Zolodievka! May peace reign eternally in your holy com¬ 
munity! 

“No sooner had we received your letter, which, let us as¬ 
sure you, was as honey in our mouths, than we congregated 
and carefully studied the matter you referred to. In answer 
we can say only this, that you have wrongfully accused a 
townsman of ours. This tailor of yours is a wicked man who 
with base slander has created a scandal between our two 
communities and deserves to be punished accordingly. We, 
the undersigned, are ready under oath to bear witness that 
with our own eyes we saw the goat give milk. May the goats 
of all our friends be as bountiful. 



153 


The Enchanted Tailor 


“Pay no heed to the accusations of the tailor. Pay no heed 
to the words of ignorant people who speak falsely. 

“Peace be unto you and peace unto all Jews everywhere, 
now and forever. Amen. 

“From your younger brothers who bow in the dust at your 
feet ...” 

When the rabbi had finished reading this letter, the dele¬ 
gation cried out in anger, “Aha, those Kozodoievka hooli¬ 
gans! They’re making fun of us! Let’s show them who we 
are and what our emblem is! Shears and Iron! Let them re¬ 
member that!” 

And at once they called another meeting, sent for more 
whisky, and it was decided to take this imitation of a goat 
straight to Kozodoievka, take vengeance on the teacher, wreck 
his cheder and overturn the whole town. 

No sooner said than done. They mustered about sixty 
men for the trip, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, 
butchers, strong young men who enjoyed a fight, each one 
armed with the tools of his trade: this one with a wooden 
yardstick, that one with a flatiron, one with a last, another 
with an axe, some with hammers and cleavers, and others 
with ordinary household utensils, rolling pins, graters, carv¬ 
ing knives . . . And it was decided without further delay 
that they should march off to Kozodoievka and make war on 
the town, kill and destroy and lay waste. 

“Once for all!” they cried. “ ‘Let us die with the Philis¬ 
tines!’ Let’s kill them off and be done with it!” 

“But wait,” one of them called out. “You are ready for the 
slaughter, fully armed. But where is the goat?” 

“That’s right! Where did the demon go?” 

“He’s been swallowed up.” 

“Then he’s not such a fool. But where could he have gone 
to?” 

“Home to the melamed. Can’t you understand?” 

“He’d be crazy to do that!” 

“Where else could he go?” 



Sholom Aleichem 


154 


“What difference does it make? Guess what you want to. 
The point is, the goat has disappeared!” 

14 

Now let us leave the possessed tailor struggling with the 
Angel of Death and the workingmen of the town preparing 
for battle, and let us pass on to the demon himself, that is— 
the goat. 

When the goat became aware of the uproar that had 
arisen in the town, he thought to himself: what was he going 
to get out of all this? What was the use of being tied to 
the tailor's waist and following him wherever he went and 
starving to death? It was better to run off into the wide 
world and see what freedom meant. So he made his escape, 
running off madly across the marketplace, his feet scarcely 
touching the earth, knocking over men and women, jumping 
over everything that stood in his way—tables of bread and 
rolls, baskets of grapes and currants. He leaped over crockery 
and glassware, scattered and shattered everything in his path. 
The women screamed, “Who is it? What is it? What hap¬ 
pened? A goat, a possessed creature, a demon! Woe is me! 
Where is he? There, there he is! Catch him! Catch him!” 

The men picked themselves up and ran after the goat as 
fast as they could, and the women, naturally, ran after the 
men. But in vain. Our goat had tasted the joys of freedom 
and was gone, never to be seen again. 

And the unfortunate tailor? What became of him? And 
how did the story end? Reader, don’t compel me to tell you. 
The end was not a happy one. The story began cheerfully 
enough, but it ended like most cheerful stories, very tragi¬ 
cally. And since you know that I am not a gloomy soul who 
prefers tears to laughter and likes to point a moral and teach 
a lesson, let us part as cheerfully as we can. And I wish that 
all of you readers and everybody else in the world may have 
more opportunities to laugh than to cry. 

Laughter is healthful. The doctors bid us laugh. 



A YOM KIPPUR 
SCANDAL 


“That’s nothing!” called out the man with round eyes, like an 
ox, who had been sitting all this time in a corner by the 
window, smoking and listening to our stories of thefts, rob¬ 
beries and expropriations. “I'll tell you a story of a theft that 
took place in our town, in the synagogue itself, and on Yom 
Kippur at that! It is worth listening to. 

“Our town, Kasrilevka—that’s where I’m from, you know 
—is a small town, and a poor one. There is no thievery 
there. No one steals anything for the simple reason that 
there is nobody to steal from and nothing worth stealing. 
And besides, a Jew is not a thief by nature. That is, he 
may be a thief, but not the sort who will climb through a 
window or attack you with a knife. He will divert, pervert, 
subvert and contravcrt as a matter of course; but he won t 
pull anything out of your pocket. He won’t be caught like a 
common thief and led through the streets with a yellow 
placard on his back. Imagine, then, a theft taking place in 
Kasrilevka, and such a theft at that. Eighteen hundred rubles 
at one crack. 

“Here is how it happened. One Yom Kippur eve, just be¬ 
fore the evening services, a stranger arrived in our town, a 
salesman of some sort from Lithuania. He left his bag at an 
inn, and went forth immediately to look for a place of wor- 



156 


Sholom Aleichem 

ship, and he came upon the old synagogue. Coming in just 
before the service began, he found the trustees around the 
collection plates. ‘Sholom aleichem,’ said he. ‘Aleichem 
sholom they answered. ‘Where does our guest hail from? 
‘From Lithuania.’ ‘And your name?’ ‘Even your grandmother 
wouldn't know if I told her.’ ‘But you have come to our 
synagogue!’ Where else should I go?’ ‘Then you want to 
pray here?’ ‘Can I help myself? What else can I do?’ ‘Then 
put something into the plate.’ ‘What did you think? That I 
was not going to pay?’ 

“To make a long story short, our guest took out three sil¬ 
ver rubles and put them in the plate. Then he put a ruble 
into the cantor’s plate, one into the rabbi's, gave one for the 
cheder, threw a half into the charity box, and then began to 
divide money among the poor who flocked to the door. And 
in our town we have so many poor people that if you really 
wanted to start giving, you could divide Rothschild’s fortune 
among them. 

“Impressed by his generosity, the men quickly found a 
place for him along the east wall. Where did they find room 
for him when all the places along the wall are occupied? 
Don’t ask. Have you ever been at a celebration—a wed¬ 
ding or circumcision—when all the guests are already seated 
at the table, and suddenly there is a commotion outside—the 
rich uncle has arrived? What do you do? You push and 
shove and squeeze until a place is made for the rich relative. 
Squeezing is a Jewish custom. If no one squeezes us, we 
squeeze each other.” 

The man with the eyes that bulged like an ox’s paused, 
looked at the crowd to see what effect his wit had on us, 
and went on. 

“So our guest went up to his place of honor and called 
to the shammes to bring him a praying stand. He put on his 
tallis and started to pray. He prayed and he prayed, standing 
on his feet all the time. He never sat down or left his 
place all evening long or all the next day. To fast all day 



157 


A Yom Kippnr Scandal 


standing on one’s feet, without ever sitting down—that only 
a Litvak can do! 

“But when it was all over, when the final blast of the 
shofar had died down, the Day of Atonement had ended, 
and Chaim the melamed, who had led the evening prayers 
after Yom Kippnr from time immemorial, had cleared his 
throat, and in his tremulous voice had already begun— ‘Ma-a- 
riv a-ro-vim . . .’ suddenly screams were heard. ‘Help! Help! 
Help!’ We looked around: the stranger was stretched out on 
the floor in a dead faint. We poured water on him, revived 
him, but he fainted again. What was the trouble? Plenty! 
This Litvak tells us that he had brought with him to Kas- 
rilevka eighteen hundred rubles. To leave that much at the 
i nn —think of it, eighteen hundred rubles —he had been 
afraid. Whom could he trust with such a sum of money in 
a strange town? And yet, to keep it in his pocket on Yom 
Kippnr was not exactly proper either. So at last this plan 
had occurred to him: he had taken the money to the syna¬ 
gogue and slipped it into the praying stand. Only a Litvak 
could do a thing like that! . . . Now do you see why he had 
not stepped away from the praying stand for a single min¬ 
ute? And yet during one of the many prayers when we all 
turn our face to the wall, someone must have stolen the 
money . . . 

“Well, the poor man wept, tore his hair, wrung his hands. 
What would he do with the money gone? It was not his 
own money, he said. He was only a clerk. The money was his 
employer’s. He himself was a poor man, with a houseful of 
children. There was nothing for him to do now but go out 
and drown himself, or hang himself right here in front of 

everybody. 

“Hearing these words, the crowd stood petrified, forgetting 
that they had all been fasting since the night before and it 
was time to go home and eat. It was a disgrace before a 
stranger, a shame and a scandal in our own eyes. A theft 
like that—eighteen hundred rubles! And where? In the Holy 



Sholora Aleiehem 100 

of Holies, in the old synagogue of Kasrilevka. And on what 
day? On the holiest day of the year, on Yom Kippur! Such 
a thing had never been heard of before. 

“ ‘ Shammes, lock the door!’ ordered our Rabbi. We have 
our own Rabbi in Kasrilevka, Reb Yozifel, a true man of 
God, a holy man. Not too sharp witted, perhaps, but a good 
man, a man with no bitterness in him. Sometimes he gets 
ideas that you would not hit upon if you had eighteen heads 
on your shoulders . . . When the door was locked, Reb 
Yozifel turned to the congregation, his face pale as death 
and his hands trembling, his eyes burning with a strange fire. 

“He said, ‘Listen to me, my friends, this is an ugly thing, a 
thing unheard of since the world was created that here in 
Kasrilevka there should be a sinner, a renegade to his peo¬ 
ple, who would have the audacity to take from a stranger, a 
poor man with a family, a fortune like this. And on what 
day? On the holiest day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and 
perhaps at the last, most solemn moment—just before the 
shofar was blown! Such a thing has never happened any¬ 
where. I cannot believe it is possible. It simply cannot be. 
But perhaps—who knows? Man is greedy, and the tempta¬ 
tion—especially with a sum like this, eighteen hundred ru¬ 
bles, God forbid—is great enough. So if one of us was 
tempted, if he were fated to commit this evil on a day like 
this, we must probe the matter thoroughly, strike at the root of 
this whole affair. Heaven and earth have sworn that the 
truth must always rise as oil upon the waters. Therefore, my 
friends, let us search each other now, go through each other’s 
garments, shake out our pockets—all of us from the oldest 
householder to the shammes, not leaving anyone out. Start 
with me. Search my pockets first.’ 

“Thus spoke Reb Yozifel, and he was the first to unbind 
his gabardine and turn his pockets inside out. And follow¬ 
ing his example all the men loosened their girdles and 
showed the linings of their pockets, too. They searched each 
other, they felt and shook one another, until they came to 
Lazer Yossel, who turned all colors and began to argue that. 



159 


A Y’om Kippur Scandal 


in the first place, the stranger was a swindler; that his 
story was the pure fabrication of a Litvak. No one had stolen 
any money from him. Couldn’t they see that it was all a 
falsehood and a lie? 

“The congregation began to clamor and shout. What did 
he mean by this? All the important men had allowed them¬ 
selves to be searched, so why should Lazer Yossel escape? 
There are no privileged characters here. 'Search him! Search 
him!’ the crowd roared. 

“Lazer Yossel saw that it was hopeless, and began to 
plead for mercy with tears in his eyes. He begged them not 
to search him. He swore by all that was holy that he was as 
innocent in this as he would want to be of any wrongdoing 
as long as he lived. Then why didn’t he want to be searched? 
It was a disgrace to him, he said. He begged them to have 
pity on his youth, not to bring this disgrace down on him. 
‘Do anything you wish with me,’ he said, ‘but don t touch 
my pockets.’ How do you like that? Do you suppose we lis¬ 
tened to him? 

“But wait ... I forgot to tell you who this Lazer Yossel 
was. He was not a Kasrilevkite himself. He came from the 
devil knows where, at the time of his marriage, to live with 
his wife’s parents. The rich man of our town had dug him 
up somewhere for his daughter, boasted that he had found a 
rare nugget, a fitting match for a daughter like his. He knew 
a thousand pages of Talmud by heart, and all of the Bi¬ 
ble. He was a master of Hebrew, arithmetic, bookkeeping, al¬ 
gebra, penmanship—in short, everything you could think of. 
When he arrived in Kasrilevka—this jewel of a young man 
—everyone came out to gaze at him. What sort of bargain 
had the rich man picked out? Well, to look at him you could 
tell nothing. He was a young man, something in trousers. 
Not bad-looking, but with a nose a trifle too long, eyes that 
burned like two coals, and a sharp tongue. Our leading citi¬ 
zens began to work on him; tried him out on a page of 
Gamorah, a chapter from the Scriptures, a bit of Ratnbam, 
this, that and the other. He was perfect in everything, the 



160 


Sholom Aleichem 

dog! Whenever you went after him, he was at home. Reb 
Yozifel himself said that he could have been a rabbi in any 
Jewish congregation. As for world affairs, there is nothing to 
talk about. We have an authority on such things in our town, 
Zaidcl Reb Shaye’s, but he could not hold a candle to Lazer 
Yosscl. And when it came to chess—there was no one like 
him in all the world! Talk about versatile people . . . Nat¬ 
urally the whole town envied the rich man his find, but 
some of them felt he was a little too good to be true. He 
was too clever (and too much of anything is bad!). For a 
man of his station he was too free and easy, a hail-fellow- 
well-met, too familiar with all the young folk—boys, girls, 
and maybe even loose women. There were rumors . . . At 
the same time he went around alone too much, deep in 
thought. At the synagogue he came in last, put on his tallis, 
and with his skullcap on askew, thumbed aimlessly through 
his prayerbook without ever following the services. No one 
ever saw him doing anything exactly wrong, and yet people 
murmured that he was not a God-fearing man. Apparently a 
man cannot be perfect . . . 

“And so, when his turn came to be searched and he re¬ 
fused to let them do it, that was all the proof most of the 
men needed that he was the one who had taken the money. 
He begged them to let him swear any oath they wished, 
begged them to chop him, roast him, cut him up—do any¬ 
thing but shake his pockets out. At this point even our 
Rabbi, Reb Yozifel, although he was a man we had never 
seen angry, lost his temper and started to shout. 

" ‘You!’ he cried. ‘You thus and thus! Do you know what 
you deserve? You see what all these men have endured. They 
were able to forget the disgrace and allowed themselves to 
be searched; but you want to be the only exception! God in 
heaven! Either confess and hand over the money, or let us 
see for ourselves what is in your pockets. You are trifling 
now with the entire Jewish community. Do you know what 
they can do to you?’ 

“To make a long story short, the men took hold of this 



161 


A Yom Kippur Scandal 


young upstart, threw him down on the floor with force, and 
began to search him all over, shake out every one of his 
pockets. And finally they shook out . . . Well, guess what! 
A couple of well-gnawed chicken bones and a few dozen 
plum pits still moist from chewing. You can imagine what 
an impression this made—to discover food in the pockets 
of our prodigy on this holiest of fast days. Can you imagine 
the look on the young man’s face, and on his father-in-law’s? 
And on that of our poor Rabbi? 

“Poor Reb Yozifcl! He turned away in shame. He could 
look no one in the face. On Yom Kippur, and in his syna¬ 
gogue ... As for the rest of us, hungry as we were, we 
could not stop talking about it all the way home. We rolled 
with laughter in the streets. Only Reb Yozifel walked home 
alone, his head bowed, full of grief, unable to look anyone 
in the eyes, as though the bones had been shaken out of his 
own pockets.” 

The story was apparently over. Unconcerned, the man 
with the round eyes of an ox turned back to the window 
and resumed smoking. 

“Well,” we all asked in one voice, “and what about the 
money?” 

“What money?” asked the man innocently, watching the 
smoke he had exhaled. 

“What do you mean—what money? The eighteen hundred 
rubles!" 

“Oh,” he drawled. “The eighteen hundred. They were 

gone.” 

“Gone?” 

“Gone forever.” 



IN HASTE 


For in haste didst thou come forth out of the Land of Egypt. 

-DEUTERONOMY, 16 : 3 . 

To my honored, beloved and respected friend, Sholom Alei- 
chem: 

I want to begin by informing you that I am still—Bless 
the Lord—among the living, and that I hope to hear the 
same from you. Amen. Next I want to tell you that, with 
God’s help, I am now a king; that is, I have come home to 
Kasrilevka to spend the Passover with my wife and children, 
my father-in'law and mother-in-law, and with all my loved 
ones. And at Passover, as we all know, a Jew surrounded by 
his family is always a king. If only briefly, I hasten to inform 
you of all this, my dear, true friend. For a detailed account 
there is no time. It is Passover Eve, and on this day we must 
all do everything in great haste, standing on one foot. As it 
is written, “For in haste didst thou come forth out of the 
Lartd of Egypt.” 

But what to write of first, I hardly know myself. It seems 
to me that before anything else I ought to thank you and 
praise you for the good advice you gave me, to try my hand 
at matchmaking. Believe me, I shall never, never forget what 
you have done for me. You led me forth from the Land of 
Bondage, from the Gehenna of Yehupetz; you freed me from 
the desolate occupation of a commission salesman, and lifted 
nr> to a noble, respected profession. And for this I am ob- 



163 


In Haste 


ligated to praise and exalt you, to bless and adorn your name, 
as you well deserve. 

It is true that thus far I have not succeeded in negotiating 
a single match, but I have made a beginning. Things are 
stirring, and once things begin to stir there is always the 
possibility and the hope that with God’s help something may 
come of it. Especially in view of the fact that I do not work 
alone. I operate in partnership with other matchmakers, the 
best matchmakers in the world. As a result of these connec¬ 
tions I now have a reputation of my own. Wherever I come 
and introduce myself, Menachem-Mendel from Yehupetz, I 
am invited to sit down, I am given tea with preserves, I am 
treated like an honored guest. They introduce me to the 
daughter of the house, and the daughter shows me what she 
can do. She turns to her governess and begins to speak 
French with her. Words come pouring like peas out of a 
sack, and the mother sits gazing at her daughter proudly, as 
though to say, “What do you think of her? She speaks well, 
doesn’t she?” 

And listening to these girls, I have picked up some French 
myself and I can understand quite a bit of the language. For 
instance, if someone says to me, “ Parlez-vous Fran^ais?” 
(“How are you feeling these days?”) I say, “ Merci, bonjour” 
(“Not bad, praise the Lord.”) 

Then, after she has given a demonstration of her French, 
they have her sit down at the pianola to play something— 
overtures and adagios and finales—so beautiful that it pene¬ 
trates to the very depth of one’s soul! In the meantime 
the parents ask me to stay for supper and I let them talk me 
into it. Why not? ... At the table they serve me the best 
portions of meat and feed me tzimmes even on weekdays. 
Afterwards, I strike up a conversation with the daughter. 
“What,” I ask, “is your heart’s desire—a lawyer, an engineer, 
a doctor?” “Naturally,” she says, “a doctor.” And once more 
she starts jabbering in French with the governess, and at this 
point the mother has an opportunity to display her daugh¬ 
ter’s handiwork. “Her embroidery and her knitting are a 



164 


Sholom Aleichem 

feast to the eye,” she says, “and her kindness, her goodness 
he^ consideration for others—there is no one like her! And 
quiet—like a dove. And bright—as the day . . . 

And the father, in his turn, traces his pedigree for me. He 
tells me what a fine family he comes from, and his wife as 
well. He tells me who his grandfather was, and his great¬ 
grandfather, and all his wife’s connections. Every one of 
them of the finest. Rich people, millionaires, famous and 
celebrated all over the world. “There is not a single common 
person in our whole family,” he assures me. “And not one 
pauper,” his wife adds. “Not a single workingman,” he says. 
“No tailors and no cobblers,” she adds. “You’ll find no fakes 
or frauds among us,” he tells me. “Or apostates either, I can 

assure you,” she puts in. . 

In the doorway, when I’m ready to leave and they wish me 

a good journey, I sigh and let them know how expensive it 
is to travel these days. Every step costs money. And if he is 
not obtuse he knows what I mean, and gives me at least 

enough for expenses ... . 

I tell you, my dear friend, that matchmaking is not at all 

such a bad profession—especially if God ever intercedes and 
you actually conclude a match! So far, as I have told you, I 
have not succeeded in marrying anyone off. I have had no 
luck. At the start everything looks auspicious. It could hardly 
be better. It was a match predestined since the Six Days of 
Creation. But at the last moment everything goes wrong. In 
this case the youth does not care for the maiden; in the 
other, the girl thinks the groom is too old. This one has too 
fine a pedigree; that one does not have enough money. This 
one wants the moon on a platter; that one doesn’t know 
what he wants. There is plenty of trouble connected with it, 
and heartaches, and indigestion, I can assure you. 

Right now I am on the verge of arranging a couple of 
matches—naturally with a few partners—which, if the Lord 
has mercy and they go through, will be something for the 
whole world to talk about. Both parties come from the 
wealthiest and finest and oldest families—there is none like 



165 


In Haste 


them. And the girls are both the greatest beauties. You can’t 
find their equal anywhere. Both are well-educated, gifted, 
kind, bright, quiet, modest—all the virtues you can think 
of. And what do I have to offer them? Real merchandise! 
One—a doctor from Odessa. But he wants no less than thirty 
thousand rubles dowry, and he has a right to it, because ac¬ 
cording to the practice that he says he has, he should be 
worth much more. I have another from Byelotzerkiev—a rare 
find! A bargain at tw'enty thousand! And another in Yehu- 
petz—only he doesn’t want to get married. And a whole 
flock of young little doctors who are only too anxious to get 
married. 

Besides these I have a pack of lawyers and attorneys and 
justices at fifteen thousand and ten thousand, and smaller 
lawyers—young ones just hatched—that you can have for six 
thousand or five thousand, or even less. On top of that I 
have a couple of engineers who are already earning a living, 
and a few engineers still looking for work. And that is not 
all. I have an assortment of miscellaneous clients, elderly 
men, relics of past campaigns from Tetrevitz, from Maka- 
revka, from Yampola and from Strishtch, without diplomas, 
but fine enough specimens, distinguished, skilled, intelligent. 
In short, there are plenty to pick from. The only trouble is 
that if the gentleman wants the lady, the lady does not 
want the gentleman. If the girl is willing, the man is not. 
Perhaps then you will ask why the man who does not want 
girl number one will not take number two, and vice versa? I 
thought of that myself, but it doesn’t seem to work. Do you 
know why? Because strangers are always mixing in. They 
may be good people. They mean no harm. But they spoil 
everything. And meanwhile letters are flying back and forth. 
I send telegrams and receive telegrams every day. The whole 
world rocks and rolls! 

And in the midst of it all, Passover gets in the way, like a 
bone in the throat, blocking everything. I think it over. My 
fortune won’t run away from me. The merchandise I deal in 
is not so perishable. Why shouldn’t I take a few days off and 



166 


Sholom Aleichem 

go to see my family in Kasrilevka? It s been so long since 
I’ve been there. It is not fair to my wife and children to be 
away from them so long. It does not look good to others, and 
it is even embarrassing to myself. So, to make it short, I 
have come home for Passover, and that is where I am writ¬ 
ing you this letter from. 

Maybe you will ask, why have I not written to you before 
this? Here is the answer. People like us are always worn out, 
we never have time. We are always rushing about. We never 
rest. I always keep thinking: if not today, then tomorrow. 
Soon, soon, with God’s help. I’ll arrange a worthwhile match, 
and then I’ll write you all about it in celebration. But as it 
happened that all my prospects dragged on and remained 
hanging in the air, I kept putting off writing to you till God 
should bring me safely home . . . 

And now I shall tell you what my homecoming was like. 
I’ll describe everything just the way you like it. But if my 
account does not seem rounded out as yours always are, 
please excuse me. Each one of us has to tell his story the 
way he can. 

I arrived—that is, the train came into the station—yester¬ 
day. But around here the mud is so deep that it took the 
wagon all night to pull through to town. For a time it even 
looked as if I might have to spend the Passover on the way 
somewhere, axle-deep in mud, together with the driver and 
the horses. You must be familiar with our Kasrilevka mud 
from the olden times. But ever since they began to talk 
about paving the roads around here, it seems as if the mud 
has become thicker and deeper than ever. In fact, people 
have begun going around without their galoshes, because 
they were always losing them in the mud. And some women 
have started a fashion even better than that. They go around 
without shoes, either. I wonder what they’ll think of next! 

Well, this morning, when we reached Kasrilevka itself, all 
the passengers had to get out of the wagon and go the rest 
of the way by foot. A fine homecoming! I felt my face burn- 


167 


In Haste 


ing. Acquaintance after acquaintance stopped me on the way, 
greeted me broadly, shook hands with me knee-deep in the 
mud—each with his own questions, his own comments. 
“How goes it with you, Menachem-Mendel?” “What is the 
latest news on the Yehupetz market?” “Look at the man, will 
you! In a derby hat and rubber overshoes!” 

“Laugh, laugh,” I answered, barely able to pull one foot 
after another out of the mud. “You have the right to laugh! 
Everywhere else in the world people really need galoshes, 
but here you can get along without them! Here it's as dry 
and sandy as in Palestine!” 

I barely managed to drag myself home, and here I found 
a Gehenna. Like the fumes over Gehenna was the thick 
smoke that rose from the yard and the kitchen, where silver¬ 
ware for the holidays was being boiled, and everything else 
was being cleaned and scrubbed and scoured. And food, the 
rich and wonderful Passover food, was being cooked and 
baked and broiled. The shouting and clamoring of everyone, 
of mistresses and servants, the commands, the exhortations, 
the complaints and the threats, were enough to make a 
person deaf. A small thing—Passover Eve! 

The first one to greet me was my mother-in-law, bless her. 

She is the same as ever, she has not changed in the least. 

• 

She was in the front yard, standing over a wooden cot, her 
kerchief tied around her head with two pointed wings stick¬ 
ing out. In one hand she held a can of kerosene, in the other 
a brush. She was pickling bedbugs. When she saw me, she 
managed to control her joy. She kept right on with her work, 
muttering to herself: 

“Well, well! You mention the Messiah—and look who 
comes! Here he is, my bird of Paradise ... If he doesn’t 
spoil, he’ll find his way home. Goats run away, chickens get 
lost, but men always come back . . . The only place they 
don’t return from is the Other World. Now I know why the 
cat was washing herself yesterday, and the dog was eating 
entrails . . . Oh, Sheine-Sheindel, daughter, come here! Wei- 



168 


Sholom Aleicbem 

come your ornament, your jewel, your crown of gold and dia¬ 
monds! Your holy of holies . . . Quick, take the garbage 

away!” 

At this point my wife runs out, frightened, and sees me. 
Her welcome is more direct. 

“Tfui!” she spat out. “You picked just the right time to 
come. All year long you roam around that dirty city, lying 
around in all the attics, engage in every idolatry—and here 
you come fluttering in on Passover Eve, when we’re busy 
cleaning up and there is no time to say a word to each other. 

I don’t even have the time to put on a clean dress. I look 
like a fright. And you—fresh from the fine ladies of Yehu- 
petz—may they roasi in hell!—who held you in their 
clutches all year—may they not live through the Passover! 
Look at him! A plague on him! He doesn’t even ask how a 
person is getting along, how the children are! Soreleh, Fei- 
geleh, Yoseleh, Nechamenu, Moishe-Hersheleh! Your father 
has come back! Suddenly remembered you! May my worst 
enemies look as beautiful as you look in that derby hat! 

I must tell you the truth, dear friend. I barely recognized 
the children. And as for them—they didn’t know me at all. 
But though my wife’s welcome was not as ardent as I had 
hoped for, I could see that she was happy, for when I had 
finished greeting and kissing each of the children, I saw that 
she had withdrawn to one side and was crying. 

But best and friendliest of all was the welcome I received 
from my father-in-law. He was as happy as if it were his own 
child he was seeing, or happy like a man who had been 
locked up in prison all these years and suddenly he sees an¬ 
other prisoner . . . My father-in-law, a distinguished-looking 
man with fine, dark eyes and a rich beard, had aged notice¬ 
ably in these past few years, become white as a dove. Quietly 
he shook hands with me, asked how I was, and with a wink 
called me into his little alcove, and only when we were 
there alone did he embrace me. 

“Do you know what, Mendel,” he said to me with a deep 
sigh, “I’m growing old. Every year I’m a year older . . . But 


169 


In Haste 


come, Mendel, sit down. Tell me what’s new. You have been 
all over the world. How are things going on among our peo¬ 
ple? What is the true story about Dreyfus? What is it peo¬ 
ple are saying about a new war? What is happening in 
Palestine? Here we know nothing, we live like cattle . . .” 

My father-in-law was getting wound up for a good long 
talk, but suddenly from outside we heard my mother-in-law’s 
melodious voice: 

“Boruch! Boruch!?” (The first Boruch was a shout, the 
second had a questioning overtone of astonishment in it, as 
if to say, “Aren’t you here yet?”) 

“Just a minute! Here I come! I’m coming! I’m coming!” 
answered my father-in-law, and he bounded from the room. 

A few times this happened. No sooner had he got started 
talking, when her voice rang out, “Boruch! Boruch!?” And 
each time he jumped. “I’m coming! I’m coming!” A little 
later, after breakfast, after the last few bread crusts found on 
the premises had been burned and the house itself had been 
purified for the holidays, and he was given a clean shirt and 
told that now he could go to the Baths, he became a different 
man, as though a new soul had been installed in his body. 
There at least, in the bath house, he thought he would have 
a chance for a few words. But again he was mistaken, 
woefully mistaken. As soon as we came in the crowd 
swarmed about us like bees, like the locusts in a year of 
famine. They almost ate me up alive. Every one of them 
wanted me to tell him what was going on in Yehupetz. Was 
it true, what they had heard about the bad times everywhere, 
the failures and bankruptcies? Did millionaire Brodsky still 
have some money? How was the Dreyfus case going to come 
out? Why didn’t they hear about it any more? And how did 
it happen that England was still messing around with the 
Boers? These questions and many more they put to me 
from all sides. They almost pulled me apart. They didn’t let 
me rest. And my father-in-law could not get a word in any¬ 
where. 

The same thing happened when we went to buy wine for 



Sholom i 


170 


the seder. As soon as we walked down into Yudel Vem- 
shenker’s cellar, I was greeted from all sides and had to 
shake hands with everybody. In the midst of it someone 
asked for Palestinian wine, and Yudel Veinshenker (much 
older now, with all his teeth gone) kept shouting that there 
was no such thing. There never had been and never would 
be. But one young man who pretended to be more worldly 
than the others, kept arguing that he had seen it himself in 
the papers. 

“Papers! What papers?” shouted Yudel Veinshenker. “Lies 
and falsehoods! Some troublemakers must have thought it 
up! Those Zionists you hear about!” 

The young man was stubborn. “As sure as I see you in 
front of me,” he said, “I saw the Palestinian wines men¬ 
tioned. And what’s more, I’ll tell you the exact name. Mount 
Carmel wine. And they sell it in all the shops in Yehupetz.” 

“In Yehupetz, you say?” several bystanders broke in. “Here 
is a man straight from Yehupetz. Menachem-Mendel Boruch- 
Hersh Leah-Dvoshe’s! Let’s ask Menachem-Mendel. He’ll 
know!” 

I tried to speak, but they wouldn’t let me. For every word 
I say they ask me ten questions, and before I’m through 
with one answer another of them asks me ten more ques¬ 
tions. “Why do they call it Mount Carmel wine? Is it from 
Mount Carmel itself or just from Palestine? How do they 
bring it from Mount Carmel? How much does it cost? Who 
makes it? Jewish colonists? Our own colonists? How many 
colonies do we have now in Palestine? What are their 
names, and what connection do they have with Baron Roths¬ 
child? Oh, Rothschild! How much is he really worth? Who is 
worth more—Rothschild or the Yehupetzer Brodsky? Why is 
Rothschild a Zionist and Brodsky not? Is it true, what they 
say, that Doctor Herzl is buying up Palestine from the Turks 
for the Zionists?” 

“Come,” my father-in-law says to me, “they don’t let us get 
in a word anywhere.” 

And it was only later in the day, while he was grating 


171 


In Ilaste 


horseradish outside, that my father-in-law was able to say a 
few words to me. But only a few words, because every little 
while we were interrupted by my mother-in-law. 

“Boruch! Boruch!?” 

“Right away! Here I come! Here I come!” 

In the meantime the women had finished their work and 
had dressed themselves in their finest clothes and all their 
jewelry, like queens. My mother-in-law wore a dark green 
poplin dress with a flowered silk kerchief on her head. And 
Sheine-Sheindel had a flowered yellow silk dress with a dark 
green poplin kerchief on her head. And even I slipped into 
the alcove and put on my best clothes. Are we not all kings 
on Passover? And in the meanwhile I took a few sheets of 
paper and I'm writing you this letter. And once more, dear 
friend, I beg you to pardon me if I appear to be in a hurry. 
It's Passover Eve! If all is well and the Lord grants me 
strength, I shall write to you again in a few days. Then I 
shall have more time and I shall be able to write at greater 

length. 

From your truest friend, 

Menachem-Mendel 

p.s. It is not my fate to enjoy anything in this world. There 
everything was ready, all was serene. The holiday spirit was 
in the air, and suddenly a misfortune overtook us. A dog 
stole into the kitchen, no one knows how, and ate up the 
greens and the chicken neck and the rest of the symbolic 
trimmings for tonight’s seder. Suddenly there was an uproar 
and a tumult. Heavens were splitting open. I was sure mur¬ 
der was being done, or a fire had broken out, or at least 
someone had been scalded with boiling water. Everybody 
was yelling at everybody else, and all the cries melted into 
one uproar. Sheine-Sheindel was yelling at the servant girl, 
the servant girl was yelling at my father-in-law. It s all his 
fault!” she cried. “The master has no brains! He’s always 
leaving the door open! Always!” 

But above them all could be heard my mother-in-law. 



172 


Sholom Aleiohem 

“Woe is me! Thunder and lightning! When the world 
calls a man crazy, you may believe it! A fool is worse than a 
sinner! How should a person be a prophet and know that he 
would leave the door open, and suddenly, on Passover Eve, a 
dog would steal into the kitchen? And of all things to find 
the* chicken bones? It never rains but it pours. I have always 
said: the dog always gets the best bite of food, and the pud¬ 
ding comes out according to the company (that must mean 
me!) . . . What can we do now? Boruch! Boruch?” 

“Here I am! Right away! Here I am!” 

I look at my father-in-law and think: “What a woeful lot 
is yours, poor unfortunate king, and what a woeful thing is 
thy kingdom.” 

Once more, be well, And enjoy a kosher Pesach. 

Yours 

M. M. 



ETERNAL, LIFE 


If you are willing to listen, I shall tell you the story of how 
I once took a burden upon myself, a burden which almost, 
almost ruined my life for me. And why do you think I did 
it? Simply because I was an inexperienced young man and 
none too shrewd. So far as that goes, I may be far from 
clever now, too, because if I were clever, I might have had a 
little money by now. How does the saying go? If you have 
money, you are not only clever, but handsome too, and can 

sing like a nightingale! 

Well, there I was, a young man living with my father- and 
mother-in-law, as was the custom with young married cou¬ 
ples in those days. And, as was also the custom in those days, 
I sat in the synagogue all day studying the Torah. Now and 
then I glanced into secular books too, but that had to be 
done on the sly so my father- and mother-in-law should not 
find out; not so much my father-in-law as my mother-in-law, 
a woman who was the real head of the family. You can really 
say she wore the pants. She managed all their affairs herself, 
picked out the husbands for her daughters herself, and her¬ 
self arranged the entire match. It was she who had picked me 
out too, she who examined me in the Torah, she who 
brought me to Zvohil from Rademishli. I am from Rade- 



Sholom Aleichem 


174 


mishli, you know—that’s where I was born. You must have 
heard of the town; it was recently in the papers. 

So I lived in Zvohil with my mother-in-law, struggled over 
the Rambam's Guide to the Perplexed, never stepping out of 
the house, you might say, till the time came when I had to 
register for military service. Then, as the custom was, I had 
to bestir myself, go back to Rademishli, straighten out my 
papers, see what exemption I could claim, and arrange for a 
passport which I would need if I ever left the district. That, 
you could say, was my first venture into the outside world. 
All by myself, to prove that I was now a responsible per¬ 
son, I went forth into the marketplace and hired a sleigh. 
God sent me a bargain. I found a peasant who was going 
back to Rademishli with a freshly-painted, broad-backed 
sleigh with wings at the sides like an eagle. But I had 
failed to pay attention to the fact that the horse was a white 
one, and a white horse, my mother-in-law said, was bad luck. 
“I hope I’m lying,” she said, “but this trip will be an unlucky 
one.” “Bite your tongue,” burst out my father-in-law, and at 
once was sorry, because he had to take his punishment right 
on the spot. But to me he whispered, “Women’s nonsense,” 
and I began to pack up for the trip: my tallis and tfillin, 
some freshly baked rolls, a few rubles for expenses, and three 
pillows—a pillow to sit on, a pillow to lean against, and a 
pillow to keep my feet warm. And I was ready to go. 

So I said goodbye to everybody, and started on my way to 
Rademishli. It was late in winter; the hard-packed snow 
made a perfect road for the sleigh. The horse, though a white 
one, went as smoothly as a breeze, and my driver turned out 
to be one of those silent fellows who answers everything ei¬ 
ther “Uh-huh,” meaning “yes,” or “Uh-uh” for “no.” That's all. 
You couldn’t get another word out of him. 

I had left home right after dinner and made myself as 
comfortable as I could, with a pillow under me, a pillow at 
my back, and one at my feet. The horse pranced, the driver 
cluck-clucked, the sleigh slid along, the wind blew, and 
snowflakes drifted through the air like feathers and covered 



175 


Eternal Life 


the wide expanse around us. My heart felt light, my spirits 
free. After all, it was my fust trip alone into God’s world. I 
was all alone, a free man, my own master! I leaned back and 
spread myself out in the sleigh like a lord. But in winter, no 
matter how warmly you are dressed, when the frost goes 
through you, you feel like stopping somewhere to warm 
yourself and catch your bieath before going on again. And 
I began to dream of a warm inn, a boiling samovar, and a 
fresh pot roast with hot gravy. These dreams made me crave 
for food. I actually became hungry. I began to ask the driver 
about an inn, asked if the next one was far away. He an¬ 
swered, “Uh-uh,” meaning “no.” I asked if it was close, and 
he answered, “Uh-huh,” meaning “yes.” “How close?” I 
asked. But that he would not answer, no matter how hard I 
tried to make him. 

I imagined what it would have been like if this were a 
Jew driving the sleigh. He would have told me not only 
where the inn was, but who ran it, what his name was, how 
many children he had, how much rent he paid, what he got 
out of it, how long he had been there, who had been there 
before him—in short, everything. We are a strange people, 
we Jews. 

But there I was, dreaming of a warm inn, seeing a hot 
samovar in front of me, and other good things like that; till 
God took pity on me, the driver clucked to the horse, turned 
the sleigh a little aside, and there appeared before us a small 
gray hut covered with snow, a country inn standing alone in 
the wide, snow-covered field, like a forsaken, forgotten tomb¬ 
stone. 

Driving up to the inn with a flourish, the driver took the 
horse and sleigh into the barn and I went straight toward the 
inn itself, opened the door, and stopped dead. Here is what 
I saw. On the floor in the middle of the room lay a corpse 
covered with black, with two copper candlesticks holding 
small candles at its head. All around the body sat small chil¬ 
dren in ragged clothes beating their heads with their fists 
and screaming and wailing, “Mo-ther! Mother!” And a tall. 



Sholom Aleiohem 


176 


thin man with long, thin legs, dressed in a torn summer coat 
entirely out of season, marched up and down the room with 
long strides, wringing his hands and saying to himself, 
“What shall I do? What shall I do? I don’t know what to 
do!” 

I understood right away what a happy scene I had come 
upon. My first thought was to run away. I turned to leave, 
but the door was slammed shut behind me and my feet felt 
rooted to the ground. I could not move from the spot. See¬ 
ing a stranger, the tall man with the long legs ran up to me, 
stretched out both arms like a man seeking help. 

“What do you think of my misfortune?” he asked, point¬ 
ing to the weeping children. “Poor little things . . . their 
mother just died. What shall I do? What shall I do? I don’t 
know what to do!” 

“Blessed is He who gives, and He who takes,” I said, and 
started to comfort him with the words one uses on such oc¬ 
casions. But he interrupted me. 

“She was as good as dead for the past year, poor thing. It 
was consumption. She begged for death to come. And now 
she’s dead and here we are, stuck in this forsaken spot. What 
can I do? Go to the village to find a wagon to take her to 
town? How can I leave the children here alone in the mid¬ 
dle of this field, with night coming on? God in heaven, what 
shall I do? What shall I do? I don’t know what to begin to 
do!” 

With these words the man began to weep, strangely, with¬ 
out tears, as though he were laughing, and a queer sound 
came from his lips, like a cough. All my strength left me. 
Who could think of hunger now? Who remembered the 
cold? 

I forgot everything and said to him, “I am driving from 
Zvohil to Rademishli with a very fine sleigh. If the town you 
speak of is not very far from here I can let you take the 
sleigh and I’ll wait here. If it won’t take too long, that is.” 

“Long may you live!” he cried. “For this good deed you’ll 
earn eternal life! As I am a Jew, eternal life!” he exclaimed. 



177 


Eternal Eife 


and threw his arms around me. “The town is not far away, 
only four or five versts. It will take no more than an hour 
and I'll send the sleigh right back. You are earning eternal 
life, I tell you! Eternal life! Children, get up from the 
ground and thank this young man. Kiss his hands and his 
feet! He is letting me use his sleigh to take your mother to 
the burial ground. Eternal life! As sure as I m a Jew, eternal 
life!” 

This news did not exactly cheer them. When they heard 
their father talk about taking their mother away they threw 
themselves around her again and began to weep louder than 
ever. And yet it was good news that a man had been found 
to do them this kindness. God himself had sent him there. 
They looked at me as at a redeemer, something like Elijah, 
and I must tell you the plain truth: I began to see myself 
as an extraordinary being. Suddenly in my own eyes I grew 
in stature and became what the world calls a hero. I was 
ready to lift mountains, turn worlds upside down. There was 
nothing that seemed too difficult for me, and these words 
tore themselves out of my lips: 

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll take her there myself, that is, my 
driver and I. I’ll save you the trouble of going and leaving 
the children behind.” 

The more I talked the more the little children wept, wept 
and looked up at me as at an angel from heaven, and I 
grew in my own eyes taller and taller, till I almost reached 
the sky. For the moment I forgot I had always been afraid to 
touch a dead body, and with my own hands helped to carry 
the woman out and lift her into the sleigh. I had to promise 
the driver another \\d\i-ruble, and a drink of whisky on the 
spot. At first he scratched the back of his neck and mumbled 
something in his nose. But after the third drink he softened 
up and we started on our way, all three of us, the driver and 
I and the innkeeper’s wife, Chava Nechama. That was her 
name, Chava Nechama, daughter of Raphael Michel. I re¬ 
member it as if it had been this morning, because all along 
the way I kept repeating to myself the name that her hus- 



Sholom Aleichem 1,0 

band had repeated to me several times. For when the time 
came to bury her with the proper ceremony, her full name 
would have to be given. So all the way I repeated to myself, 
“Chava Nechama, daughter of Raphael Michel. Chava Ne¬ 
chama, daughter of Raphael Michel. Chava Nechama, daugh¬ 
ter of Raphael Michel.” But while I kept repeating the 
woman’s name, the husband’s name escaped me completely. 
He had told me his name too and assured me that when I 
came to the town and mentioned the name, the corpse would 
be taken from me at once and I would be able to go on my 
way. He was well known there, he said. Year after year he 
came there for the holidays, contributed money for the syna¬ 
gogue, for the bath house, and everywhere he paid well. He 
told me more, filled my head with instructions, where I 
should go, what I should say and do, and every bit of it 
flew out of my head. You’d think that at least a word of it 
would have remained. But it didn’t. Not a word. 

All my thoughts revolved about one thing only, here I 
was, carrying a dead woman. That alone was enough to make 
me forget everything, even my own name; for from early 
childhood I had been mortally afraid of dead bodies. You’d 
have to pay me a fortune to make me stay alone with a 
corpse. And now it seemed to me that the glazed, half-open 
eyes stared at me and the dead, sealed lips would open any 
minute and a strange voice would be heard as though from 
a sepulchre, a voice so terrible that merely thinking of it al¬ 
most threw me into a faint. It is not for nothing that such 
stories are told of the dead, of people who have fainted out 
of mere fright, and lost their minds or their powers of 
speech. 

So we rode along, the three of us. I had given the dead 
woman one of my pillows and had placed her crossways in 
the sleigh, right at my feet. In order to keep myself from 
thinking melancholy thoughts I turned away from the body, 
began to watch the sky and softly to repeat to myself, “Chava 
Nechama, daughter of Raphael Michel. Chava Nechama, 
daughter of Raphael Michel,” until the name became jumbled 



179 


Eternal Eife 


in my mind and I found myself saying, “Chava Raphael, 
daughter of Nechama Michel,” and, “Raphael Michel, daugh¬ 
ter of Chava Nechama.” 

I had not been aware that it was getting darker and 
darker. The wind was blowing stronger all the time and the 
snow continued to fall until it was so deep that we could 
not find the road. The sleigh went hither and yon, without 
direction, and the driver began to grumble at first softly, then 
louder and more insistently, and I could swear that he was 
blessing me with a threefold blessing. 1 asked him, “What 
is the matter with you?” He spat into the snow and turned 
upon me with such murderous anger that I shrank back. 
“Look what you've done!” he cried. “You’ve been the ruina¬ 
tion of me and my horse!” Because of this, because we had 
taken a dead woman into the sleigh, the horse had strayed 
from the road, and here we were wandering, and God alone 
knew how long we would keep on wandering. For night was 
almost here, and then we would really be lost. 

At this good news I was ready to go back to the inn, un¬ 
load our baggage, forget eternal life. But it was too late, said 
the driver. We could neither go ahead nor turn back. We 
were wandering in the middle of the field, the devil alone 
knew where. The road was snowed under, the sky was black. 
It was late. The horse was dead tired. May a bad end come 
to that innkeeper and all the innkeepers of the world! Why 
hadn’t he broken a leg before he had stopped at the inn? 
Why hadn’t he choked on the first glass of whisky before he 
had let himself be talked into this folly, and for a miserable 
half -ruble perish here in the wilderness, together with his 
poor little horse. As for himself, it didn’t matter so much. 
Maybe it was fated that he should come to a bad end, and at 
this spot. But the poor little horse, what had he done? An 
innocent animal, to be sacrificed like that? 

I could swear that there were tears in his voice. And to 
make him feel better I told him that I would give him an¬ 
other half-ruble and two more glasses of whisky. At this he 
became furious and told me plainly that if I didn t keep my 



180 


Sholom Aleichem 

mouth shut he would throw our cargo out of the sleigh alto¬ 
gether. And I thought to myself: what would I do if he 
threw the corpse and me out into the snow? Who knew 
what a man like that could do when he lost his temper? I 
had better be quiet, sit in the sleigh buried in pillows and try 
to keep from falling asleep, because in the first place, how 
could a person fall asleep with a dead body in front of him? 
And in the second place, I had heard that in wintertime you 
mustn’t fall asleep outside, because if you did you might fall 
asleep forever. 

But in spite of myself my eyes kept shutting. I would have 
given anything at that moment for a short nap. And I kept 
rubbing at my eyes but my eyes would not obey. They kept 
shutting slowly and opening and shutting again. And the 
sleigh slid over the soft deep white snow and a strange sweet 
numbness poured through my limbs and I felt an extraor¬ 
dinary calm descend on me. And I wished that this sweet 
numbness and calm would last and last. I wished it would 
last forever. But an unknown force, I don’t know where it 
came from, stood by and prodded me. “Do not sleep. Do not 
fall asleep.” With a great effort I tore my eyes open and the 
numbness resolved itself into a chill that went through my 
bones and the calm turned to fear and shrinking and melan¬ 
choly—may the Lord have mercy on me. I imagined that my 
corpse was stirring, that it uncovered itself and looked at me 
with half-shut eyes as though to say, “What did you have 
against me, young man? Why did you drag me off, a dead 
woman, the mother of young children, and then fail to bring 
me to consecrated ground?” 

The wind blew. It shrieked with a human voice, whistled 
right into my ears, confided a horrible secret to me. Terrible 
thoughts, frightful images followed one another in my mind 
and it seemed to me that we were all buried under the snow, 
all of us, the driver, the horse, the dead woman and I. We 
were all dead, all of us. Only the corpse—isn’t it remarkable? 
.—only the dead woman, the innkeeper’s wife, was alive! 

Suddenly I heard my driver clucking to his horse cheer- 



181 


Eternal Life 


fully, thanking God, and sighing and crossing himself in the 
dark. I sat up and looked around. In the distance I saw a 
gleam of light. The light glimmered, went out, and glim¬ 
mered again. A house, I thought, and thanked God with all 
my heart. I turned to the driver. “We must have found the 
road,” I said. “Are we close to town?” 

“Uh-huh,” said the driver in his usual brief manner, with¬ 
out anger, and I could have thrown my arms around his wide 
shoulders and kissed him, I was so happy to hear that pleas¬ 
ant brief “Uh-huh” which was more wonderful to me at that 
moment than the wisest discourse. 

"What’s your name?” I asked, surprised at myself for not 
having asked it before. 

“Mikita,” he answered, in one short word, as was his cus¬ 
tom. 

“Mikita,” I repeated, and the name Mikita took on a 

strange charm. 

He answered, “Uh-huh.” 

I wished that he would tell me more. I wanted to hear 
him say something more, at least a few words. Mikita had 
suddenly become something dear to me, and his horse too, a 
charming animal! I began a conversation with him about his 
horse, told him what a fine horse he had. A very fine horse! 

To which Mikita answered, “Uh-huh.” 

“And your sleigh, Mikita, is a fine sleigh too!” 

Again he answered, “Uh-huh.” 

Beyond that he would not say a word. 

“Don’t you like to talk, Mikita, old fellow?” I asked. 

“Uh-huh,” he said. And I burst out laughing. I was as 
happy as though I had found a treasure, or made a wonder¬ 
ful discovery. In a word, I was lucky. I was more than lucky. 
Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to raise my 
voice and sing. That’s a fact. I have always had that habit. 
When I am feeling good I burst out singing. My wife, bless 
her, knows this trait of mine, and asks, What happened 
now, Noah? How much have you earned today to make you 
so happy?” To a woman, with her woman’s brains, it is possi- 



182 


Sholom Aleichem 

ble for a man to be happy only when he has made some 
money. Why does it happen that women are so much more 
greedy than men? Who earns the money, we or they? But 
there! I’m afraid I’ve gone off on the road to Boibenk again. 

Well, with God’s help we came to the town. It was still 
very early, long before daybreak. The town was sound asleep. 
Not a glimmer of light showed anywhere. We barely distin¬ 
guished a house with a large gate and a besom over the gate, 
the sign of a guest house or inn. We stopped, climbed down, 
Mikita and I, and began to pound at the gate with our fists. 
We pounded and pounded till at last we saw a light in the 
window. Then we heard someone shuffle up to the gate, 

and a voice called out, “Who’s there? 

“Open, Uncle,” I cried, “and you’ll earn eternal life.” 
“Eternal life? Who are you?” came the voice from behind 

the gate, and the lock began to turn. 

“Open the door,” I said. “We’ve brought a corpse with us. 

“A what?” 

“A corpse.” 

“What do you mean, a corpse?” 

“By a corpse I mean a dead person. A dead woman that 

we’ve brought from out in the country. 

Inside the gate a silence fell. We heard only the lock be¬ 
ing turned again and then the feet shuffling off. The lights 
went out and we were left standing in the snow. I was so 
angry that I told the driver to help me, and together we 
pounded at the window with our fists. And we pounded so 
heartily that the light went on again and the voice was heard 
once more, “What do you want? Will you stop bothering 

me!” 

“In God’s name,” I begged as if pleading with a highway¬ 
man for my life, “have pity on me. We have a corpse with 

us, I tell you.” 

“What corpse?” 

“The innkeeper’s wife.” 

“What innkeeper are you talking about?” 

“I’ve forgotten his name, but hers is Chava Michel, daugh- 



183 


Eternal Life 


ter of Chana Raphael, I mean Chana Raphael, daughter of 
Chava Michel, Chana Chava Chana, I mean . . 

“Go way, you shlimazl, or I’ll pour a bucket of water over 
you!” 

And with this, the innkeeper shuffled off again and once 
more the light went out. There was nothing we could do. It 
was only an hour or so later, when day was beginning to 
break that the gate opened a crack and a dark head streaked 
with white popped out and said to me, “Was it you that 
banged at the window?” 

“Of course! Who do you think?” 

“What did you want?” 

“I've brought a corpse.” 

“A corpse? Then take it to the shammes of the Burial So¬ 
ciety.” 

“Where does your shammes live? What’s his name?” 

“Yechiel's his name, and he lives at the foot of the hill 
right near the Baths.” 

“And where are your Baths?” 

“You don’t know where the Baths are? You must be a 
stranger here! Where are you from, young man?” 

“Where am I from? From Rademishli. That’s where I was 
born. But right now I’m coming from Zvohil. And I’m bring¬ 
ing a corpse from a village close by. The innkeeper’s wife. 
She died of consumption.” 

“That’s too bad. But what’s that got to do with you?” 

“Nothing at all. I was driving by and he begged me, the 
innkeeper, that is. He lives all alone out there in the coun¬ 
try with all those small children. There was nowhere to bury 
her, so when he asked me to earn eternal life, 1 thought to 
myself: why not?” 

“That doesn’t make sense,” he said to me. “You’d better 
see the officers of the Burial Society first.” 

“And who are your officers? Where do they live?” 

“You don’t know the officers of our Burial Society? Well, 
first there’s Reb Shepsel, who lives over there beyond the 
marketplace. Then there is Reb Eleazer-Moishe. who lives 



184 


Sholom Aleichem 

right in the middle of the marketplace. And then there is 
Reb Yossi, he’s an officer too, who lives near the old syna¬ 
gogue. But the one you’d better see first is Reb Shepsel. He s 
the one who runs everything. A hard man, I m warning you. 

You won’t persuade him so easily.” 

“Thank you very much,” I said. “May you live to tell people 
better news than you’ve told me. And when can I see these 
men?” 

“When do you suppose? In the morning after services.” 

“Thanks again. But what shall I do until then? At least 
let me in so I can warm myself. What is this town anyway, 
another Sodom?” 

At this the innkeeper locked the doors again, and once 
more it was as silent as a tomb. What could we do now? 
Here we were in the middle of the road with our sleigh, and 
Mikita fuming, grumbling, scratching his neck, spitting and 
roaring out his three-dimensional curses. “May that foul inn¬ 
keeper roast in hell through all eternity, and every other inn¬ 
keeper with him!” For himself he didn’t care. Let the evil 
spirits take him. But his horse, what did they have against his 
poor little horse, to torture it, let it starve and freeze like 
that? An innocent animal being sacrificed. What had it ever 
done? 

I felt disgraced before my driver. What could he be think¬ 
ing of us? A Jew treating another Jew like this. We who 
were supposed to be the wise and merciful ones and they, 
the common, unlearned peasants. Thus I blamed the whole 
tribe for the discourtesy of one man, as is always our custom. 

Well, we waited for daylight to come and the town to be¬ 
gin to show signs of life. And finally it did. Somewhere we 
heard the grating of a door, the sigh of a bucket. From a few 
chimneys smoke curled up, and in the distance roosters 
crowed louder and stronger. Soon the doors all opened and 
God’s creatures appeared, in the image of cows, calves, goats, 
and also men, women and young girls, wrapped up in shawls, 
bundled from head to foot like mummies. In short the whole 
town had come to life as if it were a human being. It awoke. 



185 


Eternal Eife 


washed, pulled on its clothes, and set out to work: the men 
to the synagogue to pray and study and say T-hilim; the 
women to the ovens, the calves and the goats; and I to in¬ 
quire about the officers of the Burial Society, Reb Shepsel, 
Reb Eleazer-Moishe, Reb Yossi. 

Wherever I asked they put me through a cross-examination. 
Which Shepsel? Which Eleazer-Moishe, which Yossi? There 
were, they said, several Shepsels, Eleazers and Yossis in town. 
And when I told them that I wanted the officers of the Bur¬ 
ial Society, they looked frightened and tried to find out why 
a young man should want the officers of the Burial Society so 
early in the morning. I didn’t let them feel me out long, 
but opened my heart to them and told them the whole se¬ 
cret of the burden I had taken upon myself. You should have 
seen what happened then. Do you suppose they rushed to 
relieve me of my misfortune? God forbid! They ran out, all 
right, every one of them, but it was only to see if there really 
was a corpse or if I had invented the whole story. They 
formed a ring about us, a ring that kept shifting because of 
the cold, some people leaving and others taking their place, 
looking into the sleigh, shaking their heads, shrugging their 
shoulders, and asking over and over who the corpse was, and 
where it came from, who I was, where I had got it, and 
gave me no help whatever. 

With the greatest of difficulty I managed to find out where 
Reb Shepsel lived. I found him with his face turned to the 
wall, wrapped in his tallis and tfillin, praying so ardently, 
with such a melodious voice and so much feeling that the 
walls actually sang. He cracked his knuckles, rocked back 
and forth, made strange movements with his body. I enjoyed 
it tremendously, because in the first place I love to listen to 
such spirited praying, and besides, it gave me a chance to 
warm my frozen bones. When Reb Shepsel finally turned his 
face to me his eyes were still full of tears and he looked like 
a man of God, his soul as far removed from earth as his big 
fat body was from heaven. But since he was still in the midst 
of his prayers and did not want to interrupt them with secu- 



Sholom Aleichem 


186 


lar discourse, he spoke to me in the holy tongue, that is, in a 
language that consisted of gestures of the hands, winks of 
the eye, shrugs and motions of the head and even the nose, 
with a few Hebrew words thrown in. If you wish, I can relate 
the conversation to you word by word, and no doubt you will 
understand which words were his and which were mine. 

“Sholom aleichem, Reb Shepsel.” 

“Aleichem sholom. I-yo. Nu-o.” 

“Thank you. I have been sitting all night.” 

“Nu-o? Ma?“ 

“I have a request to make of you, Reb Shepsel. You will 
earn eternal life.” 

“Eternal life? Good! In what way?” 

“I have brought you a corpse.” 

“Corpse! What corpse?” 

“Not far from here there is a country inn. The owner is a 
poor man whose wife just died of consumption, and she left 
him with several small children, may God have compassion 
on them. If I had not taken pity on them, I don’t know what 
the poor innkeeper would have done, alone out there in the 
middle of the field with the corpse.” 

“God have mercy on them. Well . . . and did he give you 
anything for the Burial Society?” 

“Where is he going to get the money for that? He’s a 
poor man. Poor as can be, and with a houseful of children. 
You will earn eternal life, Reb Shepsel.” 

“Eternal life. Good. Very good! Jews. Poor people . . . ah, 
yes.” 

And here he broke in with a series of strange sounds ac¬ 
companied by so many gestures, winks, blinks, shrugs and 
motions of the head that I could not begin to understand 
what he was driving at. 

And seeing that I could not follow him, he turned his face 
to the wall in disgust and once more began to pray, but not 
with the same ardor as before. His voice was lower, but he 
rocked back and forth faster than ever, till he came to the 
end, threw off his tallis and tfillin and fell on me with such 



187 


Eternal Life 


fury that you would have thought I had outwitted him in 
some transaction and ruined him completely. 

“Look,” he said to me, “our town is such a poor one, with 
so many paupers of our own for whom shrouds must be pro¬ 
vided when they die, and here you come from some strange 
place with a corpse. They come here from everywhere. Every¬ 
body comes here!” 

I defended myself as well as I could. I said 1 was an in¬ 
nocent man trying to do only what was proper with respect 
to the dead. Suppose a dead body had been found in the 
street and had to be buried, laid to his eternal rest. “You 
are,” I said, “an honest man, a pious one. You can earn eter¬ 
nal life with this deed.” 

At this he became even angrier and began to lash out at 
me, not with blows, but with words. 

“Is that so?” he cried. “You are a man who craves eternal 
life? Then take a walk around our town and see to it that 
our own people stop dying of hunger and freezing of cold. 
Then you will earn eternal life. Ah-hah! A young man who 
deals in eternal life! Go take your merchandise to the ne’er- 
do-wells. Maybe they will be interested. We have our own 
duties to perform, our own poor to bury. And if we suddenly 
began to yearn for this eternal life you talk about we could 

find our own way to earn it!” 

With these words Reb Shepsel showed me out and 
slammed the door behind me. And I swear to you on my 
word of honor that from that morning on I have despised all 
those overly pious people who pray out loud and beat their 
breasts and bow low and make crazy motions. I have hated 
those holy ones who talk with God all the time, who pretend 
to serve Him, and do whatever they want, all in His name! 
True, you might say that these modern irreligious people 
nowadays are no better and may even be worse than the old- 
timers with their false piety. But they’re not so revolting. At 
least they don’t pretend to be on speaking terms with God. 
But there! I’m on the way to Boiberik again. 

Well, the president, Reb Shepsel, had driven me off. So 



Sholom Aleichem 


188 


what should I do next? Go to the other trustees, of course. 
But at this point a miracle occurred. I saved myself the trou¬ 
ble of going to them, because they came to me instead. They 
met me face to face at the door and said: 

“Are you the young man we’re looking for?” 

“And what young man are you looking for?” 

‘The one who brought a body here. Is that you?” 

“Yes, I’m the one. What do you want me for?” 

“Come back with us to Reb Shepsel and we'll talk it over.” 

“Talk it over?” I asked. “What is there to talk over? You 
take the body from me, let me go on my way—and you’ll 
earn eternal life.” 

“You don’t like the way we do things? Is anyone keeping 
you here?” they asked. “Go take your body anywhere you 
want, even to Rademishli, and we’ll be grateful to you.” 

“Thanks for the advice,” I told them. 

“You’re welcome,” said they. 

So we went back into Reb Shepsel’s house and the three 
trustees began to talk. They argued and quarrelled, called 
each other names. The other two said Reb Shepsel was stub¬ 
born, a hard man to deal with; and Reb Shepsel yelled back 
at them, shouted, ranted, quoted the law: the town’s own 
poor came first. At this the other two fell on him. 

“Is that so? Then you want the young man to take the 
body back with him?” 

“God forbid,” I said. “What do you want, I should take the 
body back? I barely came here alive, almost got lost on the 
way. My driver wanted to throw me out of the sleigh in the 
open field somewhere. I beg you. Have pity on me. Take the 
corpse off my hands. You’ll earn eternal life.” 

“Eternal life is a fine enough thing,” answered one of 
them, a tall thin man with bony fingers, the one called 
Eleazer-Moishe. “We ll take the body away from you and 
bury it, but it will cost you something.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Here I undertook a respon¬ 
sibility like this, at the risk of my life, almost got lost on 
the way, and you want money!” 



189 


Eternal Eife 


“But you’re getting eternal life, aren’t you?” said Reb 
Shepsel with such an ugly leer that I wanted to go alter him 
as he deserved. But I managed to control myself. After all, I 
was still at their mercy. 

“Let's get to work,” said the one called Reb Yossi, a 
small man with a short scraggly beard. “I suppose you know, 
young man, that you have another problem on your hands. 
You have no papers, no papers at all.” 

“What papers?” I asked. 

“How do we know whose body it is? Maybe it’s not what 
you said it was,” said the tall man with the bony fingers, the 
one called Eleazer-Moishe. 

I stood looking from one to the other, and the tall one 
with the bony fingers, the one called Eleazer-Moishe, shook 
his head and pointed at me with his long fingers and said: 

“Yes, yes. Maybe you murdered some woman yourself. 
Maybe it’s your own wife that you brought here and made 
up this story about a country inn, the innkeeper s wife, con¬ 
sumption, small children, eternal life. 

I must have looked frightened to death at these words, for 
the one they called Reb Yossi began to comfort me, telling 
me that they themselves had nothing against me. They un¬ 
derstood very well that I was not a robber or a murderer, but 
still I was a stranger, and a dead body was not a sack of po¬ 
tatoes. We were dealing with a dead person, a corpse. They 
had, he explained, a rabbi and a police inspector in their 

town. A report had to be made out. 

“Yes, of course. A report. A report,” added the tall one, 
the one called Eleazer-Moishe, pointing with his finger and 
looking down at me accusingly as though I had committed 
some crime. I couldn’t say another word. I felt a sweat break 
out on my forehead and I was ready to faint. I was well 
aware of the miserable plight I had fallen into. It was a dis¬ 
grace, a sorrow and a heartache in one. But, I thought to my¬ 
self, what was the use of starting the whole discussion over 
again with them? So I took out my purse and said to the 
three trustees of the Burial Society: 



Sholom Aleiehem 


190 


“Listen, my friends, here is the whole story. I see what I 
have fallen into. It was an evil spirit that made me stop at 
that country inn to warm myself just when the innkeeper’s 
wife had to go ahead and die, and I had to listen to the 
poor wretch left with all the children begging me, promising 
eternal life. And now I have to pay for it. Here is my purse. 
You’ll find about seventy-odd rubles in it. Take it and do 
what you think best. Just leave me enough to get me to 
Rademishli, and take the body away from me and let me go 
on my way.” 

I must have spoken with great feeling for the three trus¬ 
tees looked at each other and would not touch my purse. 
They told me that their town was not Sodom; they were not 
robbers. True, the town was a poor one, with more paupers 
than rich people, but to fall on a strange man and order him 
to hand over his money, that they would not think of. What¬ 
ever I wanted to give of my own free will was all right. To 
do it without charging at all was impossible. It was a poor 
town, and there were all the expenses, pallbearers, a shroud, 
drinks, the cost of the burial lot. But it was not necessary 
for me to throw my money away. If I started to do that, 
there would be no end to it. 

Well, what more can I tell you? If the innkeeper had had 
two hundred thousand rubles, his wife could not have had a 
finer funeral. The whole town came to look at the young 
man who had brought the corpse. They told each other that 
it was the body of his mother-in-law, a rich woman. (I don’t 
know where they got the mother-in-law story.) At any rate 
they came to welcome the young man who had brought the 
rich mother-in-law and was throwing out money right and 
left. They actually pointed their fingers at me. And as for 
beggars, they were like the sands of the ocean. In all my life 
I have never seen so many beggars in one place, not even in 
front of the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve. They pulled at 
the skirts of my coat, they almost tore me to pieces. How 
often do they see a young man who throws away money like 
that? I was lucky that the trustees came to my rescue and 


191 


Eternal Life 


kept me from giving away all I had. Especially the tall one 
with the bony fingers, Eleazer-Moishe, did not step away 
from me for a moment. He kept pointing at me with his 
finger and saying, “Young man, do not hand out all your 
money.” But the more he spoke the closer the beggars gath¬ 
ered around me, tearing at my flesh. “It's nothing,” yelled the 
beggars. “It’s nothing. When you bury such a rich mother-in- 
law you can afford to spend a few extra groschen. She must 
have left him enough money. May we have as much!” 

“Young man!” yelled one beggar, pulling at my coat, 
“young man, give the two of us half a ruble! At least forty 
kopeks. We were born like this, one lame, the other blind. 
Give us at least a gulden, a gulden for two maimed ones. 
Surely we deserve a gulden!” 

“Don’t pay attention to him!” shouted another, pushing the 
first one aside. “Do you call them cripples? My wife is a real 
cripple. She can’t use her arms or legs, she can t move a 
limb, and our children are sick too! Give me anything at all 
and I’ll say kaddish for your mother-in-law all year—may 
she rest in Paradise!” 

Now I can laugh about it. Then it was far from a laughing 
matter, for the crowd of beggars grew and multiplied about 
me. In half an hour they flooded the marketplace and it was 
impossible to proceed with the coffin. The attendants had to 
use sticks to disperse the mob, and a fight broke out. By that 
time some peasants began to gather about us too, with their 
wives and countless children, and at last the news reached the 
town authorities. The police inspector appeared on horseback 
with a whip in his hand and with one harsh look about him 
and a few sharp lashes of the whip sent the mob flying in 
all directions. He himself dismounted and came up to the 
• coffin to investigate. He started by questioning me, asked 
who I was, where I had come from, and where I was going. 
I was paralyzed with fear. I don’t know why, but whenever 
I see an officer of the law I go numb with fear, though I 
have no real reason to worry. In all my life I have never as 
much. as touched a fly on the wall and I know quite well 



Sholoni Aleichem 

that a policeman is an ordinary human being, flesh and blood 
like the rest of us. In fact, I know a Jew who is so friendly 
with the police officer that they visit each other frequently 
and when there is a holiday the officer eats fish at my 
friend’s house, and when my friend visits the officer he's 
treated to hard-boiled eggs. He can’t praise the officer highly 
enough. And yet every time I see a policeman I want to run. 
It must be something I inherited, because, as you know, I 
come from a region where pogroms came one after another 
in the days of Vassilchikov, and I’m descended from the 
victims of those pogroms. If I wanted to, I could tell you 
stories enough about those days—but there, I must be well 
past Boiberik this time. 

As I said, the officer began to cross-examine me. He wanted 
to know who I was, and what I was, and where I was going. 
How could I tell him the whole story—that I live with my 
father-in law in Zvohil and I’m going to Rademishli to get a 
passport? But the trustees, long may they live, saved me the 
trouble. Before I could even begin, one of them, the one 
with the thin beard, called the officer aside and began to talk 
with him, while the tall one with the bony fingers quickly 
and in guarded language taught me how to answer the offi¬ 
cer. 

“Be careful what you say,” he whispered. “Tell him the 
whole truth. You live not far from town and this is your 
mother-in-law and you brought her here to be buried. Tell 
him your name and your mother-in-law’s too. Your real 
names, you understand, straight out of the Hagadah. And 
give him the burial fee—don’t forget.” 

And saying this he winked at me and continued, “In the 
meantime, your driver looks tired and thirsty. We’ll take him 
across the street and give him a chance to rest.” 

Then the inspector took me into a large building and be¬ 
gan to make out some papers. I have no idea at all what 
nonsense I told him. I said anything and everything that 
came to my mind and he wrote it all down. 



193 


Eternal Life 


“Your name?” 

“Moishe.” 

“Your father’s.’* 

“Itzko.” 

“Your age?” 

“Nineteen.” 

“Married?” 

“Married.” 

“Children?” 

“Of course.” 

“Your trade?” 

“Merchant.” 

“Who is the dead person?” 

“My mother-in-law.” 

“Her name?” 

“Yenta.” 

“Her father’s?” 

“Gershon.” 

“Her age?” 

“Forty.” 

“Cause of death?” 

“Fright.” 

“Fright?” 

“Yes, fright.” 

“What do you mean—fright?” he asked, laying down his 
pen and lighting a cigarette, looking me over from head to 
foot. Suddenly my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I 
thought to myself, if I am inventing a story, I might as well 
do a good job. So I told him how my mother-in-law had 
been sitting all alone knitting some socks. She had forgotten 
that her young son, a boy named Ephraim, was in the room 
with her. A thirteen-year-old boy, very stupid, something of 
a clown. He was making shadow figures on the wall and he 
put his hands up high behind his mother’s back, and making 
a goat’s shadow on the wall, opened his mouth and bleated, 
“Ba-a-a-a.” Struck with fright, she fell from her chair and 
died on the spot. 



Sholom Aleichem 


194 


While I was telling him this story he kept looking at me 
strangely, not taking his eyes off me. He heard me out till 
the end, spat on the floor, wiped his red mustaches, and led 
me out again to the coffin. He removed the black cover, 
looked at the dead woman’s face and shook his head. He 
looked from the corpse to me, and from me to the corpse, 
and then said to the trustees, “Well, you can go ahead and 
bury the woman. As for this young man, I’ll have to keep 
him here until I satisfy myself that she was really his mother- 
in-law and that she died of fright.’’ 

You can imagine how I felt when I heard this. I turned 
aside—I couldn’t help it—and burst out crying like a small 
child. 

“Look here, what are you crying for?” asked the little man 
they called Reb Yossi, and comforted me, cheered me up as 
best he could. I was innocent, wasn’t I? Then what did I 
have to be afraid of? 

“If you don’t eat garlic, they’ll never smell it on your 
breath,” put in Reb Shepsel with such a smirk that I wanted 
to give his fat cheeks a couple of good hard slaps. 

God in heaven, what good did it ever do me to make up 
this big lie and drag my mother-in-law into it? All I needed 
now was to have her find out that I had buried her alive 
and spread the news that she had died of fright. 

“Don’t be afraid,” Reb Eleazer broke in, prodding me with 
his bony fingers. “God will take care of you. The officer is 
not such a bad fellow. Just give him the burial fee I told 
you about. He’ll understand. He knows that everything you 
told him is true.” 

I cannot tell you any more. I don’t even want to remember 
what happened to me after that. You understand, of course, 
that they took the few gulden I had left, put me in jail and 
I had to stand trial. But that was child’s play compared to 
what happened when the news reached my father- and 
mother-in-law that their son-in-law was in prison for -having 
brought a dead woman from somewhere. 

Naturally they came at once, identified themselves as my 


195 


Eternal Life 


parents-in-law, and then the excitement really began! On 
one side the police went after me. “A fine fellow you are! 
Now, if your mother-in-law Yenta, daughter of Gershon, is 
alive, then who was the dead woman you brought?” On the 
other side, my mother-in-law, may she live long! “There is 
only one thing I want to ask you,” she kept saying to me. 
“What did you have against me, to take me and bury me 
alive?” 

Naturally at the trial it turned out that I was innocent, 
free from all guilt. Of course that cost some money too. 
Witnesses had to be brought in, the innkeeper and his chil¬ 
dren, and finally I was set free. But what I went through 
afterwards, especially from my mother-in-law, that I don’t 
wish my worst enemy to have to go through! 

And from that time on, when anybody mentions eternal 
life, I run away as fast as I can. 



HANNUKAH MONEY 


Can you guess, children, which is the best of all holidays? 
Hannukah, of course. 

You don’t go to cheder for eight days in a row, you eat 
pancakes every day, spin your dreidel to your heart s con¬ 
tent, and from all sides Hannukah money comes pouring in. 
What holiday could be better than that? 

Winter. Outside it’s cold, a bitter frost. The windows are 
frozen over, decorated with beautiful designs, the sills piled 
high wih snow. Inside the house it’s warm and cheerful. The 
silver Hannukah lamp stands ready on the table and my fa¬ 
ther is walking back and forth, his hands behind his back, 
saying the evening prayers. When he is almost through, but 
while still praying, he takes out of the chest a waxen candle 
(the shammes, to light the others with) and starting Oleinu, 
the last prayer in the regular services, signals to us: 

“‘Shehu noteh shomayim . . .’ Nu! Nu-o!” 

My brother and I don’t know what he means. We ask, 
“What do you want? A match?” 

My father points with his hand toward the kitchen door, 
" ‘Al-kein rikaveh I'cho . . .’ E-o-nu!” 

“What then? A bread knife? Scissors? The mortar and 
pestle?” 

My father shakes his head. He makes a face at us, comes 



197 


Hannukah Money 


to the end of the prayer, and then, able to speak again, 
says, “Your mother! Call your mother! 1 m ready to light the 

candle!” 

The two of us, my brother and I, leap for the kitchen, 
almost falling over each other in our haste. 

“Mother! Quick! The Hannukah candles!” 

“Oh, my goodness! Here I am! Hannukah lights! cries 
my mother, leaving her work in the kitchen (rendering 
goose fat, mixing batter for pancakes) and hurries into the 
parlor with us. And after her comes Braina the cook, a 
swarthy woman with a round plump face and mustache, 
her hands always smeared with grease. My mother stands at 
one side of the room with a pious look on her face, and 
Braina the cook remains at the door, wipes her hand on 
her dirty apron, draws her greasy hand over her nose, and 

leaves a black smear across her face. 

My father goes up to the lamp with his lighted candle, 

bends down and sings in the familiar tune, Blessed art thou, 
O Lord . . and ends . . to kindle the lights of Han¬ 
nukah.” 

My mother, in her most pious voice, chimes in, “Blessed 
be He and blessed be His name.” And later, “Amen.” Braina 
nods her approval and makes such queer faces that Motel 
and I are afraid to look at each other. 

“These lights we kindle,” my father continues, marching 
up and down the room with an eye on the Hannukah lamp. 
He keeps up this chant till we grow impatient and wish thal 
he would reach his hand into his pocket and take out his 
purse. We wink at each other, nudge and push each other. 

“Motel,” I say, “go ask him for Hannukah money.” 

“Why should I ask?” 

“Because you’re younger. That’s why.” 

“That’s why I shouldn’t. You go. You’re older.” 

My father is well aware of what we are talking about, but 
he pretends not to hear. Quietly, without haste, he walks 
over to the cupboard and begins to count out some money. 
A cold shiver runs down our backs, our hands shake, our 



Sholom 


198 


hearts pound. We look up at the ceiling, scratch our ear- 
locks, try to act as if this meant nothing at all to us. 

My father coughs. 

“H’m . . . Children, come here.” 

“Huh? What is it?” 

‘‘Here is Hannukah money for you.” 

The money in our pockets, we move off. Motel and I, at 
first slowly, stiffly, like toy soldiers, then faster and faster 
with a skip and a hop. And before we have reached our room 
we lose all restraint and turn three somersaults one after the 
other. Then hopping on one foot we sing: 

“Einga beinga 
Stupa tzeinga 
Artze bartze 
Gola shwartze 
Eimelu reimelu 
Beigeli feigeli 
Hopr 

And in our great joy and exuberance we slap our own 
cheeks twice, so hard that they tingle. 

The door opens and in walks Uncle Benny. 

‘‘Come here, you rascals. I owe you some Hannukah 
money.” 

Uncle Benny puts his hand into his vest pocket, takes 
out two silver gulden, and gives us each one. 


2 

Nobody in the world would ever guess that our father and 
Uncle Benny are brothers. My father is tall and thin; my 
uncle is short and fat. My father is dark, my uncle is fair. 
My father is gloomy and silent, my uncle jolly and talkative. 
As different as day and night, summer and winter. And yet 
they are blood brothers. 

My father takes a large sheet of paper ruled off into 



199 


llannukah Money 


squares, black and white, and asks us to bring him a handful 
of dry beans from the kitchen, dark ones and white ones. 

They are going to play checkers. 

(Once a miracle happened, and this is our celebration.) 
Mother is in the kitchen rendering goose fat and frying 
pancakes. My brother and I are spinning our dreidel. My 
father and Uncle Benny sit down and play checkers. 

“One thing I'll have to ask you,” my father says. “Once 
you’ve made a move it's a move. You can t keep changing 
your mind.” 

“A move is a move,” my uncle agrees, and makes a move. 
“A move is a move,” repeats my father and jumps my 

uncle’s bean. 

“That’s right,” says Uncle Benny, “a move is a move,” and 
jumps twice. 

The longer they play the more absorbed they become. 
They chew their beards, beat time under the table with their 

feet, and together they hum one song: 

“Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do? What shall 1 do?” 
sings my father, chewing an end of his beard. "It I move 
here,” he chants, as one does over the Camorah, “then he’ll 
move there. Maybe I’d better move . . . over here.” 

“Over here . . . over here,” echoes Uncle Benny in the 

same tone. 

“Why should I worry?” my father hums again. “If he 
should take this one then I’ll take those two. On the other 
hand, maybe he thinks he can take three ... 

“Take three . . . take three . . . take three . . .” Uncle 

Benny helps him out. 

“Ah, you’re no good, Benny. You’re no good at all,” sings 

my father and makes a move. 

“You’re worse than no good, my brother,” sings Uncle 

Benny and pushes a bean forward, then snatches it back. 

“You can’t do that, Benny,” my father cries. “You said a 
move was a move!” And he catches Uncle Benny’s hand. 
“No!” Uncle Benny insists. “If I haven’t finished I can still 

move.” 



Sholom Aleichem 


200 


“No!” my father declares just as emphatically. “We de¬ 
cided on that before we started. Remember. You can’t 
change your mind.” 

“I can’t?” asks Uncle Benny. “How many times did you 
change yours?” 

“1?” says my father indignantly. “See! That’s why I hate 
to play with you, Benny!” 

“Who is forcing you to play with me?” 

At this point my mother comes in from the kitchen, her 
face flaming from the heat. 

“Already? Fighting already?” she asks. “Over a few 
beans?” 

Behind her comes Braina with a large platter of steaming 
pancakes. We all move toward the table. My brother Motel 
and I, who only a moment ago had been fighting like cat 
and dog, make up quickly, become friends again, and go 
after the pancakes with the greatest gusto. 


3 

In bed that night I lie awake and think: how much would I 
be worth if all my uncles and aunts and other relatives gave 
me Hannukah money? First of all there is Uncle Moishe- 
Aaron, my mother’s brother, stingy but rich. Then Uncle Itzy 
and Aunt Dveira, with whom my father and mother have 
not been on speaking terms for years and years. Then Uncle 
Beinish and Aunt Yenta. And how about our sister Ida and 
her husband Sholom-Zeidel? And all the other relatives? 

“Motel, are you asleep?” 

“Yes. What do you want?” 

“How much Hannukah money do you think Uncle 
Moishe-Aaron will give us?” 

“How should I know? I’m not a prophet.” 

A minute later: “Motel, are you sleeping?” 

“Yes. What now?” 



201 


Hannukah Money 


“Do you think anyone else in the whole world has as many 
uncles and aunts as we have?” 

“Maybe yes . . . and maybe no.” 

Two minutes later: “Motel, are you asleep?” 

“Of course.” 

“If you’re asleep, how can you talk to me?” 

“You keep bothering me so I have to answer.” 

Three minutes later: “Motel, are you awake?” 

This time he answers with a snore. I sit up in bed, take 
out my father’s present, smooth it out, examine it. A whole 
ruble. 

“Think of it,” I say to myself. “A piece of paper, and what 
can’t you buy with it! Toys, knives, canes, purses, nuts and 

candy, raisins, figs. Everything.” 

I hide the ruble under my pillow and say my prayers. A 
little later Braina comes in from the kitchen with a platter 
full of rubles ... She isn’t walking, she’s floating in the 
air, chanting, “These lights we kindle . . .” And Motel be¬ 
gins to swallow rubles as if they were pancakes. 

“Motel!” I scream with all my might. “God help you, 
Motel! What are you doing? Eating money?” 

I sit up with a start . . . spit three times. It was a dream. 

And I fall asleep again. 


4 

The next morning after we have said our prayers and eaten 
breakfast, our mother puts on our fur-lined jackets and 
bundles us up in warm shawls and we start off for our 
Hannukah money. First of all, naturally, we stop off at Uncle 
Moishe-Aaron’s. 

Our Uncle Moishe-Aaron is a sickly man. He has trouble 
with his bowels. Whenever we come we find him at the 
wash bowl after having come in from the back yard, washing 
and drying his hands with the appropriate prayer. 



Sholom Aleichem 


202 


“Good morning, Uncle Moishe-Aaron!” we cry out to¬ 
gether, my brother and I. Our Aunt Pessil, a tiny woman 
with one black eyebrow and one white one, comes forward 
to meet us. She takes off our coats, unwinds our shawls, and 
proceeds to blow our noses into her apron. 

“Blow!” says Aunt Pessil. “Blow hard. Don’t be afraid. 
Again! Again! That’s the way!” 

And Uncle Moishe-Aaron, a little man with a moth-eaten 
mustache and ears stuffed with cotton, dressed in his old 
ragged fur-lined jacket and with his quilted skullcap on his 
head, stands at the wash bowl, wiping his hands, wrinkling 
his face, blinking at us with his eyes, while he groans out his 
prayer. 

My brother and I sit down uneasily. We are always miser¬ 
able and frightened in this house. Aunt Pessil sits opposite 
us, her arms folded across her chest, and puts us through her 
usual examination. 

“How is your father?” 

“All right.” 

“And your mother?” 

“All right.” 

“Have they killed any geese yet?” 

“Oh, yes.” 

“Did they have much fat?” 

“Quite a lot.” 

“Did your mother make pancakes yet?” 

“Yes.” 

“Has Uncle Benny come yet?” 

“Yes.” 

“Did they play checkers?” 

“Yes.” 

And so on and so on . . . 

Aunt Pessil blows our noses again and turns to Uncle 
Moishe-Aaron. 

“Moishe-Aaron, we ought to give the children some Han - 
nukah money.” 



203 


Klannukah Money 


Uncle Moishe-Aaron doesn’t hear. He keeps on drying his 
hands, and comes to the end of his prayer with a drawn-out 
groan. 

Aunt Pessil repeats: “Moishe-Aaron! The children! Han- 
nukah money.” 

“Huh? What?” says Uncle Moishe-Aaron, and shifts the 

cotton from one ear to the other. 

“The children. Hannukah money!” Aunt Pessil shouts right 

into his ear. 

“Oh, my bowels, my bowels,” groans Uncle Moishe- 
Aaron (that’s the way he always talks), holding his belly 
with both hands. “Did you say Hannukah money? What do 
children need money for? What will you do with it, huh? 
Spend it? Squander it? How much did your father give you? 

Huh?” 

“He gave me a ruble," I say, “and him a half. 

“A ruble! Hm . . . Some people spoil their children, ruin 
them. What will you do with the ruble, huh? Change it? 
Huh? No! Don’t change it. Do you hear what I say? Don’t 
change it. Or do you want to change it? Huh?” 

“What does it matter to you whether they change it or 
don’t change it?” breaks in Aunt Pessil. “Give them what 
they have coming and let them go on their way. 

Uncle Moishe-Aaron shuffles off to his room and begins 
to search through all the chests and drawers, finds a coin 
here, a coin there, and mutters to himself: 

“Hm . . . How they spoil their children. Ruin them. 

Simply ruin them.” 

And coming back, he pushes a few hard coins into our 
hands. Once more (for the last time) Aunt Pessil blows our 
noses, puts on our coats, wraps the shawls around us, and we 
go on our way. We run over the white frozen crunchy snow, 
counting the money that Uncle Moishe-Aaron has given us. 
Our hands are frozen, red and stiff. The coins are copper, 
large and heavy, very old six-kopek pieces, strange, old- 
fashioned thr ec-kopek pieces rubbed smooth and thin, gros- 



Sholom Aleichem 


204 


cherts that we've never seen before, thick and green with 
age. It’s hard for us, in fact impossible, to figure out how 
much Hannukah money Uncle Moishe-Aaron has given us. 


5 

Our second stop for Hannukah money is at Uncle Itzy’s and 
Aunt Dveira’s, with whom my parents have not been on 
speaking terms for many years. Why they don’t speak to 
each other I don’t know, but I do know that they never 
speak, although they go to the same synagogue and sit next 
to each other on the same bench. And at the holidays when 
it comes to auctioning off the various honors, they always try 
to outbid each other. A fierce battle takes place each 
time. The whole congregation takes sides, helps them to bid, 
eggs them on. 

The shammes, who acts as auctioneer, stands on the plat¬ 
form, working hard. His skullcap is off to one side, his 
prayer-shawl keeps slipping off his shoulders. 

“Eighteen gulden for Shi-shi! 

“Twenty gulden for Shi-shi!” 

The bidding gets hotter and hotter. My father and Uncle 
Itzy are bent over their Bibles, from all appearances unaware 
of what is going on. But every time one of them bids the 
other one raises it. 

The congregation enjoys the spectacle and helps along. 
“Thirty . . . thirty-five . . . thirty-seven and a half . . .” 
But the battle is between my father and Uncle Itzy, and they 
continue the bidding until one or the other has to give up. 

And yet whenever there is a celebration in the family, a 
birth, a circumcision, a Bar Mitzvah, an engagement party, 
a wedding or a divorce, the feud is forgotten. We all 
attend, exchange gifts, make merry, drink together and dance 
together like the best of friends. 

“Good morning, Uncle Itzy! Good morning. Aunt 



205 


Hannnkah Money 


Dveira!” we cry out together, my brother Motel and I, and 

they receive us like honored guests. 

“Did you come all this way just to see us, or was there 
something else on your mind?” Uncle Itzy asks and pinches 
our cheeks. He opens his purse and gives us our Hannu- 
kah money, a new silver twenty -kopek piece to me and an¬ 
other one to my brother. And from there we go straight to 
Uncle Beinish’s. 


6 

If you want a picture of complete chaos, go to our Uncle 
Beinish’s house. No matter when you come you find a per¬ 
fect bedlam. They have a house full of children, half-naked, 
dirty, unkempt, unwashed, always bruised, usually scratched, 
often bloodied and with black eyes. One of the children may 
be laughing, another crying; one singing, another shriek¬ 
ing; one humming, another whistling; this one has put on 
his father’s coat with the sleeves rolled up, and that one is 
riding a broomstick; this one is drinking milk from a pitcher, 
that one is cracking nuts, another is walking about with a 
herring’s head in his hand, and still another is sucking on a 
stick of candy while from his nose two runnels flow down 
toward his mouth. Aunt Yenta must be strong as an ox to 
put up with this crew. She curses them, pinches them, shakes 
them all day long. She isn’t particular. Whichever one comes 
within reach gets a slap or a shove or a prod in the side. 

An ordinary slap by itself is not worth mentioning. 
“I hope you choke; I hope you die; why doesn’t someone 
kidnap you!” These are the lesser curses. And words like 
“the plague” and “cholera” and “violent death” are uttered 
casually, without anger, as one might say “Good evening or 
“Good Sabbath.” The house becomes quiet only when Uncle 
Beinish comes home. But since Uncle Beinish is a busy 
man who spends all his time at the store, coming home only 
for meals, their house is a perpetual Gehenna. 



Sholom Aleichem 


206 


When we come in we find little Ezriel riding on his older 
brother Getzi’s back, with Froike and Mendel whipping 
Getzi on, one with the sleeve of an old jacket, the other with 
the cover of a prayer book. Chaim’l, who has found the wind¬ 
pipe of a slaughtered goose somewhere, is blowing at it until 
he is blue in the face, and succeeds in producing an eerie 
sound like the squeal of a stuck pig. Zeinvilleh is playing a 
tune on a comb and David, a small boy of about four, has 
put his shoes on his hands and beats time with them. 
Sender’l rushes by carrying a kitten by the scruff of 
the neck. The kitten’s tongue hangs out, its eyes are shut, 
its feet hang limply. You can almost hear it say, “See how 
1 suffer here; they torture me, they make life unbearable.” In 
another corner Esther, the oldest girl, is trying to comb and 
braid her little sister Haska’s hair, but since the hair is curly 
and has not been combed for a long time, the child stands 
shrieking at the top of her voice and Esther keeps slapping 
her to make her stop. The only quiet one is Pinny, a tiny 
boy with crooked legs, his shirt tail pinned up behind him. 
The only trouble with him is that wherever he goes he 
leaves a trail behind him. 

But none of this disturbs Aunt Yenta in the least. It does 
not prevent her from sitting calmly at the table drinking 
chicory, with an infant at her breast and an older child on 
her knee. Between sips of chicory she cuddles the baby at 
her breast and digs her elbow into the child on her knee. 
“Look at you eat, you pig! May the worms eat you! Esther, 
Rochel, Haska, where the devil are you? Quick, wipe his 
nose! Bring me a saucer, quick! Here I am, drinking with¬ 
out a saucer! Mendel, don’t make so much noise! I’ll give 
you such a crack that you’ll turn over three times! Oh, my 
heart, my soul, my comfort. What, murderers, you want 
more food? All you do all day is eat, eat, eat! Why don’t 
you choke!” 

When they catch sight of the two of us the children fall 
on us like locusts, grabbing us by our hands, our feet, some 
leaping at our heads. Chaim’l blows the windpipe right into 



207 


llannukah Money 


my ear. David, still wearing his shoes on his hands, throws 
his arms around us. Pinny, with the shirt tail pinned behind 
him, gets hold of one of my legs and wraps himself about it 
like a little snake. A confusion of sounds and voices sur¬ 
rounds us, deafens our ears. 

“May you scream with a toothache!” shouts Aunt Yenta 
from the other room. “A person can get deaf here! They're 
devils, not children! May your souls burn forever and ever!” 

And in the midst of all this noise and confusion Uncle 
Beinish comes in with his tallis and tfillin, apparently on his 
way from the synagogue, and at once everything becomes 
quiet. The children vanish. 

“Good morning, Uncle Beinish!” we cry out together, my 
brother Motel and I. 

“What are you doing here, you shkotzim?” asks Uncle 
Beinish. “Ah, Hannukah money!” And he gives us each a 
ten-kopek piece. 

The children peek at us from their corners with bright 
little eyes like mice, wink and signal with their hands, 
make strange faces at us, try hard to make us laugh. But 
with great effort we control ourselves, take the money, and 
run off as fast as we can from this living Gehenna. 


7 

The next place we go to for Hannukah money is our sister 
Ida’s. Since she was a child Ida has always been a lugubrious 
creature. No matter what silly little thing happened, she 
could always be counted on to burst out crying. She was al¬ 
ways shedding tears over her own or other people s troubles. 
But when she became engaged to Sholom-Zeidel, that was 
when she really cried! Perhaps you think it was because the 
young man didn’t please her? God forbid! She had never 
even seen the man! No, she wept because a bride is sup¬ 
posed to weep before her wedding. When the tailors brought 
her trousseau she wept all night long. Later, when her girl 



Sholom Aleichem 


208 


friends came for their last party together she ran off to her 
room every few minutes to weep into her pillows. But she 
was really at her best on her wedding day! That day she 
didn’t stop crying for a minute. 

But the climax came at the veiling, when Menashe Fid- 
dele, the fiddler, led her to the dais and Reb Boruch 
B’dachun climbed up on the table, folded his arms over his 
ample stomach, lowered his head as though he were bemoan¬ 
ing the dead, and began, in a mournful tone that could move 
a stone to tears, the following song: 

Dearest Bride, dearest bride! 

Weep all you please; 

Your tears are becoming. 

They need not cease. 

Weeping is ordained 
For brides to be. 

And soon you will stand 
Under the canopy. 

For you must learn 
That now your life 
Is full of sadness, 

Woe and strife; 

That man is not made 
Of iron or stone. 

He is only a being 
Of flesh and bone; 

That sinners are lashed 
In the depths of hell. 

And they scream and howl 
And lament as well. 



*09 


Ilannukah Money 


Then learn to practice virtue 
And humility. 

Weep, maiden, weep. 

Let your tears run free.” 

And so on and so on without end. 

The women who stood around her, helping to undo her 
beautiful long braids, could not control themselves. They 
gave themselves up to their lamentations wholeheartedly, 
made the oddest faces, w-iped their eyes and blew their noses. 
And poor Ida wept loudest of all. She wailed and moaned 
and blubbered so hard that she fainted three times and they 
barely revived her in time for the ceremony. 

But our brother-in-law, on the other hand, was as merry as 
our sister Ida was sad. If anything, Sholom-Zeidel was too 
merry, a practical joker, a clown, a zany, who fastened him¬ 
self to you like a leech and got under your skin. He was al¬ 
ways teasing us, my brother and me, pinching our ears and 
filliping our noses. That gave him his greatest pleasure. The 
first year they were married there were times when for days 
Motel and I went around with swollen noses, stinging ears. 
So when we heard that the young couple was leaving our 
home to set up their own establishment we were really over¬ 
joyed. But for the rest of the family the day they moved was 
a day of mourning. Ida wept, poured buckets of tears, and 
my mother, watching her, wept also. Sholom-Zeidel, who 
was supposed to be doing the packing, skipped back and 
forth, stole up behind us cunningly, and pinched our ears or 
filliped our noses. And when he bade us farewell he had the 
impudence to tell us not to wait to be invited but to come 
as often as we liked. We swore to each other on our honor, 
my brother and I, never to set foot in his house as 
long as we lived. 

But a person forgets all things, even a pinched ear. How 
can you keep from going to your own married sister for 
Hannukah money? 



Sholom Aleichem 


210 


When we come into the house, Sholom-Zeidel greets us 
heartily. 

“Well, well! Look who’s here! I’m glad you came. I’ve 
been waiting. I have some Hannukah money for you!” 

And Sholom-Zeidel takes out his purse and hands each 
one of us several shiny silver coins. And before we can even 
count how many he has given us, his hand flies out, pinch, 
fillip go his fingers, and once more our ears and noses feel 
the sharp sting. 

“Leave them alone! Haven’t you tortured them enough?” 
our sister Ida begs him with tears in her eyes, and calling us 
aside, fills our pockets with cake, nuts and figs, and gives us 
Hannukah money besides. 

We make our escape as quickly as we can and hurry home. 

8 

“Well, Motel,” I say, “let’s get down to business. Let’s figure 
out how much money we’ve collected. But I’ll tell you what. 
You wait. First let me count mine and then you’ll count 
yours.” 

And I begin to count. A ruble and three twenty-kopek 
pieces, four gulden, five grivnye, six piatekas . . . how 
much is that altogether? It must be a ruble and three 
twenties and four gulden and five grivnye and six piatekas 
• • • 

My brother Motel won’t wait until I am through, and he 
gets busy with his own finances. He moves each coin from 
one hand to the other and counts. 

“A twenty and a twenty are two twenties, and one more is 
three. And two gulden is three twenties and two gulden and 
a grivnye and another grivnye and one more—that makes 
two twenties and three gulden, I mean three gulden and 
two twenties . . . What am I talking about? I’ll have to 
start all over again from the beginning.” 

And he starts all over from the beginning. We count and 



211 


Hannukah Money 


we count and we can’t get the total. We figure and we figure 
and we can’t get it straight. When we get to Uncle Moishe- 
Aaron’s old piatekas, huge sixes, smoothly rubbed threes and 
swollen groschens we get so mixed up that we don’t know 
where in the world we are. We try to exchange these coins 
with our mother, our father, with Braina the cook, but it 
doesn’t work. Nobody wants to have anything to do with 
them. 

“What sort of piatekas are those? Who palmed them off 
on you?” 

We are ashamed to tell, and we keep quiet. 

“Do you know what,” says my brother Motel, “let’s throw 
them into the oven, or outside in the snow, when no one 
is looking.” 

“What a smart boy you are!” I tell him. “It would be 

better to give them to a beggar.” 

But just to spite us no one comes to our door. We wait 
and we wait and not a single one appears. We can’t get rid 
of Uncle Moishe-Aaron’s present. 



TIT FOR TAT 


Once I was a rabbiner. A rabbiner, not a rabbi. That is, I 
was called rabbi—but a rabbi of the crown. 

To old-country Jews I don’t have to explain what a rabbi 
of the crown is. They know the breed. What are his great 
responsibilities? He fills out birth certificates, officiates at cir¬ 
cumcisions, performs marriages, grants divorces. He gets his 
share from the living and the dead. In the synagogue he has 
a place of honor, and when the congregation rises, he is the 
first to stand. On legal holidays he appears in a stovepipe hat 
and holds forth in his best Russian: “Gospoda Prihozhane!” 
To take it for granted that among our people a rabbiner is 
well loved—let’s not say any more. Say rather that we put 
up with him, as we do a government inspector or a deputy 
sheriff. And yet he is chosen from among the people, that 
is, every three years a proclamation is sent us: "Na Osnava- 
nia Predpisania . . .” Or, as we would say: “Your Lord, the 
Governor, orders you to come together in the synagogue, 
poor little Jews, and pick out a rabbiner for yourselves . . .” 

Then the campaign begins. Candidates, hot discussions, 
brandy, and maybe even a bribe or two. After which come 
charges and countercharges, the elections are annulled, and 
we are ordered to hold new elections. Again the proclama¬ 
tions: "Na Osnavania Predpisania . . .” Again candidates. 



213 


Tit for Tat 


discussions, party organizations, brandy, a bribe or two . . . 
That was the life! 

Well, there I was—a rabbiner in a small town in 
the province of Poltava. But I was anxious to be a modern 
one. I wanted to serve the public. So I dropped the formali¬ 
ties of my position and began to mingle with the people 
as we say: to stick my head into the community pot. I got 
busy with the Talmud Torah, the charity fund, interpreted 
a law, settled disputes or just gave plain advice. 

The love of settling disputes, helping people out, or ad¬ 
vising them, I inherited from my father and my uncles. They 
—may they rest in peace—also enjoyed being bothered all the 
time with other people’s business. There are two kinds of 
people in the world: those that you can’t bother at all, and 
others whom you can bother all the time. You can climb 
right on their heads—naturally not in one jump, but grad¬ 
ually. First you climb into their laps, then onto their shoul¬ 
ders, then their heads—and after that you can jump up 
and down on their heads and stamp on their hearts with 
your heavy boots—as long as you want to. 

I was that kind, and without boasting I can tell you that 
I had plenty of ardent followers and plain hangers-on who 
weren’t ashamed to come every day and fill my head with 
their clamoring and sit around till late at night. They never 
refused a glass of tea, or cigarettes. Newspapers and books 
they took without asking. In short, I was a regular fellow. 

Well, there came a day . . . The door opened, and in 
walked the very foremost men of the town, the sparkling 
best, the very cream of the city. Four householders men 
of affairs—you could almost say: real men of substance. 
And who were these men? Three of them were the Troika 

_that was what we called them in our town because they 

were together all the time—partners in whatever business 
any one of them was in. They always fought, they were al¬ 
ways suspicious of each other, and watched everything the 
others did, and still they never separated—working always 
on this principle: if the business is a good one and there 



Sholom 


214 


is profit to be made, why shouldn’t I have a lick at the bone 
too? And on the other hand, if it should end in disaster— 
you’ll be buried along with me, and lie with me deep in the 
earth. And what does God do? He brings together the three 
partners with a fourth one. They operate together a little 
less than a year and end up in a brawl. That is why they’re 
here. 

What had happened? “Since God created thieves, swin¬ 
dlers and crooks, you never saw a thief, swindler or crook 
like this one.” That is the way the three old partners de¬ 
scribed the fourth one to me. And he, the fourth, said the 
same about them. Exactly the same, word for word. And who 
was this fourth one? He was a quiet little man, a little in¬ 
nocent-looking fellow, with thick, dark eyebrows under 
which a pair of shrewd, ironic, little eyes watched every¬ 
thing you did. Everyone called him Nachman Lekach. 

His real name was Nachman Noss’n, but everybody called 
him Nachman Lekach, because as you know, Noss’n is the 
Hebrew for “he gave,” and Lekach means “he took,” and in 
all the time we knew him, no one had ever seen him give 
anything to anyone—while at taking no one was better. 

Where were we? Oh, yes ... So they came to the rab- 
biner with the complaints, to see if he could find a way of 
straightening out their tangled accounts. “Whatever you de¬ 
cide, Rabbi, and whatever you decree, and whatever you say, 
will be final.” 

That is how the three old partners said it, and the fourth, 
Reb Nachman, nodded with that innocent look on his face 
to indicate that he too left it all up to me: “For the reason,” 
his eyes said, “that I know that I have done no wrong.” And 
he sat down in a corner, folded his arms across his chest like 
an old woman, fixed his shrewd, ironic, little eyes on me, 
and waited to see what his partners would have to say. And 
when they had all laid out their complaints and charges, 
presented all their evidence, said all they had to say, he got 
up, patted down his thick eyebrows, and not looking at the 
others at all, only at me, with those deep, deep, shrewd little 



215 


Tit for Tat 


eyes of his, he proceeded to demolish their claims and 
charges—so completely, that it looked as if they were the 
thieves, swindlers and crooks—the three partners of his— 
and he, Nachman Lekach, was a man of virtue and piety, the 
little chicken that is slaughtered before Yom Kippur to 
atone for our sins—a sacrificial lamb. “And every word that 
you heard them say is a complete lie, it never was and never 
could be. It’s simply out of the question.” And he proved 
with evidence, arguments and supporting data that every¬ 
thing he said was true and holy, as if Moses himself had 

said it. 

All the time he was talking, the others, the Troika, could 
hardly sit in their chairs. Every moment one or another of 
them jumped up, clutched his head—or his heart: Of all 
things! How can a man talk like that! Such lies and false¬ 
hoods!” It was almost impossible to calm them down, to 
keep them from tearing at the fourth one’s beard. As for me 

_the rabbiner—it was hard, very hard to crawl out from 

this horrible tangle, because by now it was clear that I had a 
fine band to deal with, all four of them swindlers, thieves 
and crooks, and informers to boot, and all four of them de¬ 
serving a severe punishment. But what? At last this idea oc¬ 
curred to me, and I said to them: 

“Are you ready, my friends? I am prepared to hand down 

my decision. My mind is made up. But I won’t disclose what 
I have to say until each of you has deposited twenty-five 
rubles —to prove that you will act upon the decision I am 

about to hand down.” 

“With the greatest of pleasure,” the three spoke out at 
once, and Nachman Lekach nodded his head, and all four 
reached into their pockets, and each one counted out his 
twenty-five on the table. I gathered up the money, locked it 
up in a drawer, and then I gave them my decision in these 

words: 

“Having heard the complaints and the arguments of both 
parties, and having examined your accounts and studied your 
evidence, I find according to my understanding and deep 



Sholom Aleichem 


216 


conviction, that all four of you are in the wrong, and not 
only in the wrong, but that it is a shame and a scandal for 
Jewish people to conduct themselves in such a manner—to 
falsify accounts, perjure yourselves and even act as inform¬ 
ers. Therefore I have decided that since we have a Talmud 
Torah in our town with many children who have neither 
clothes nor shoes, and whose parents have nothing with 
which to pay their tuition, and since there has been no help 
at all from you gentlemen (to get a few pennies from you 
one has to reach down into your very gizzards) therefore it 
is my decision that this hundred rubles of yours shall go to 
the Talmud Torah, and as for you, gentlemen, you can go 
home, in good health, and thanks for your contribution. The 
poor children will now have some shoes and socks and shirts 
and pants, and I'm sure they’ll pray to God for you and your 
children. Amen.” 

Having heard the sentence, the three old partners—the 
Troika —looked from one to the other—flushed, unable to 
speak. A decision like this they had not anticipated. The 
only one who could say a word was Reb Nachman Lekach. 
He got up, patted down his thick eyebrows, held out a hand, 
and looking at me with his ironic little eyes, said this: 

“I thank you. Rabbi Rabbiner, in behalf of all four of us, 
for the wise decision which you have just made known. Such 
a judgment could have been made by no one since King 
Solomon himself. There is only one thing that you forgot to 
say, Rabbi Rabbiner, and that is: what is your fee for this 
wise and just decision?” 

‘‘I beg your pardon,” I tell him. ‘‘You’ve come to the 
wrong address. I am not one of those rabbiners who tax the 
living and the dead.” That is the way I answered him, like a 
real gentleman. And this was his reply: 

“If that’s the case, then you are not only a sage and a 
rabbi among men, you’re an honest man besides. So, if you 
would care to listen, I’d like to tell you a story. Say that we 
will pay you for your pains at least with a story.” 

“Good enough. Even with two stories.” 



217 


Tit for Tat 


“In that case, sit down, Rabbi Rabbiner, and let us have 
your cigarette case. I’ll tell you an interesting story, a true 
one, too, something that happened to me. What happened 

to others I don’t like to talk about. 

And we lit our cigarettes, sat down around the table, and 
Reb Nachman spread out his thick eyebrows, and looking at 
me with his shrewd, smiling, little eyes, he slowly began to 
tell his true story of what had once happened to him him¬ 
self. 

All this happened to me a long time ago. I was still a 
young man and I was living not far from here, in a village 
near the railroad. I traded in this and that, I had a small 
tavern, made a living. A Rothschild I didn t become, but 
bread we had, and in time there were about ten Jewish fam¬ 
ilies living close by—because, as you know, if one of us 
makes a living, others come around. They think you’re shov¬ 
eling up gold ... But that isn’t the point. What I was 
getting at was that right in the midst of the busy season one 
year, when things were moving and traffic was heavy, my 
wife had to go and have a baby—our boy our first son. 
What do you say to that? “Congratulations! Congratulations 
everybody!” But that isn’t all. You have to have a bris, the 
circumcision. I dropped everything, went into town, bought 
all the good things I could find, and came back with the 
Mohel with all his instruments, and for good measure I also 
brought the shammes of the synagogue. I thought that with 
these two holy men and myself and the neighbors we’d have 
the ten men that we needed, with one to spare. But what 
does God do? He has one of my neighbors get sick—he is 
sick in bed and can’t come to the bris, you can’t carry him. 
And another has to pack up and go off to the city. He 
can’t wait another day! And here I am without the ten men. 
Go do something. Here it is—Friday! Of all days, my wife 
has to pick Friday to have the bris —the day before the Sab¬ 
bath. The Mohel is frantic—he has to go back right away. 
The shammes is actually in tears. “What did you ever drag 



Sholom Aleichem 


218 


us off here for?” they both want to know. And what can I 
do? 

All I can think of is to run off to the railroad station. Who 
knows—so many people come through every day—maybe 
God will send some one. And that’s just what happened. I 
come running up to the station—the agent has just called 
out that a train is about to leave. I look around—a little 
roly-poly man carrying a huge traveling bag comes flying by, 
all sweating and out of breath, straight toward the lunch 
counter. He looks over the dishes—what is there a good 
Jew can take in a country railroad station? A piece of her¬ 
ring—an egg. Poor fellow—you could see his mouth was 
watering. I grab him by the sleeve. ‘‘Uncle, are you looking 
for something to eat?” I ask him, and the look he gives me 
says: “How did you know that?” I keep on talking: “May 
you live to be a hundred—God himself must have sent you.” 
He still doesn’t understand, so I proceed: “Do you want to 
earn the blessings of eternity—and at the same time eat a 
beef roast that will melt in your mouth, with a fresh, white 
loaf right out of the oven?” He still looks at me as if I’m 
crazy. “Who are you? What do you want?” 

So I tell him the whole story—what a misfortune had 
overtaken us: here we are, all ready for the bris, the Mohel 
is waiting, the food is ready—and such food!—and we need a 
tenth man! “What’s that got to do with me?” he asks, and I 
tell him: “What’s that got to do with you? Why—every¬ 
thing depends on you—you’re the tenth man! I beg you— 
come with me. You will earn all the rewards of heaven— 
and have a delicious dinner in the bargain!” “Are you crazy,” 
he asks me, “or are you just out of your head? My train is 
leaving in a few minutes, and it’s Friday afternoon—almost 
sundown. Do you know what that means? In a few more 
hours the Sabbath will catch up with me, and I’ll be 
stranded.” “So what!” I tell him. “So you’ll take the next 
train. And in the meantime you’ll earn eternal life— 
and taste a soup, with fresh dumplings, that only my wife 
can make . . .” 



219 


Tit for Tat 


Well, why make the story long? I had my way. The roast 
and the hot soup with fresh dumplings did their work. You 
could see my customer licking his lips. So I grab the travel¬ 
ing bag and I lead him home, and we go through with the 
bris. It was a real pleasure! You could smell the roast all 
over the house, it had so much garlic in it. A roast like that, 
with fresh warm twist, is a delicacy from heaven. And when 
you consider that we had some fresh dill pickles, and a bottle 
of beer, and some cognac before the meal and cherry cider 
after the meal—you can imagine the state our guest was in! 
His cheeks shone and his forehead glistened. But what then? 
Before we knew it the afternoon was gone. My guest jumps 
up, he looks around, sees what time it is, and almost has a 
stroke! He reaches for his traveling bag: “Where is it?” I 
say to him, “What’s your hurry? In the first place, do you 
think we’ll let you run off like that—before the Sabbath? 
And in the second place—who are you to leave on a journey 
an hour or two before the Sabbath? And if you’re going to 
get caught out in the country somewhere, you might just as 
well stay here with us.” 

He groans and he sighs. How could I do a thing like that 
to him—keep him so late? What did I have against him? 
Why hadn’t I reminded him earlier? He doesn’t stop bother¬ 
ing me. So I say to him: “In the first place, did I have to 
tell you that it was Friday afternoon? Didn’t you know it 
yourself? And in the second place, how do you know— 
maybe it’s the way God wanted it? Maybe He wanted you 
to stay here for the Sabbath so you could taste some of my 
wife’s fish? I can guarantee you, that as long as you’ve eaten 
fish, you haven’t eaten fish like my wife’s fish—not even in a 
dream!” Well, that ended the argument. We said our eve¬ 
ning prayers, had a glass of wine, and my wife brings the 
fish to the table. My guest’s nostrils swell out, a new light 
shines in his eyes and he goes after that fish as if he hadn’t 
eaten a thing all day. He can’t get over it. He praises it to 
the skies. He fills a glass with brandy and drinks a toast to 
the fish. And then comes the soup, a specially rich Sabbath 



Sholom Aleiehem 


220 


soup with noodles. And he likes that, too, and the tzimmes 
also, and the meat that goes with the tzimmes, a nice, fat 
piece of brisket. I’m telling you, he just sat there licking his 
fingers! When we’re finishing the last course he turns to me: 
“Do you know what I’ll tell you? Now that it’s all over. I’m 
really glad that I stayed over for Shobbes. It’s been a long 
time since I’ve enjoyed a Sabbath as I’ve enjoyed this one.” 
“If that’s how you feel, I’m happy,” I tell him. “But wait. 
This is only a sample. Wait till tomorrow. Then you’ll see 
what my wife can do.” 

And so it was. The next day, after services, we sit down 
at the table. Well, you should have seen the spread. First the 
appetizers: crisp wafers and chopped herring, and onions and 
chicken fat, with radishes and chopped liver and eggs and 
gribbenes. And after that the cold fish and the meat from 
yesterday’s tzimmes, and then the jellied neat’s foot, or 
fsnoga as you call it, with thin slices of garlic, and after that 
the potato cholent with the kugel that had been in the oven 
all night—and you know what that smells like when you take 
it out of the oven and take the cover off the pot. And what 
it tastes like. Our visitor could not find words to praise it. 
So I tell him: “This is still nothing. Wait until you have 
tasted our borsht tonight, then you’ll know what good food 
is.” At that he laughs out loud—a friendly laugh, it is true— 
and says to me: “Yes, but how far do you think I’ll be from 
here by the time your borsht is ready?” So I laugh even 
louder than he does, and say: “You can forget that right 
now! Do you think you’ll be going off tonight?” 

And so it was. As soon as the lights were lit and we had a 
glass of wine to start off the new week, my friend begins to 
pack his things again. So I call out to him: “Are you crazy? 
Do you think we’ll let you go off, the Lord knows where, at 
night? And besides, where’s your train?” “What?” he yells 
at me. “No train? Why, you’re murdering me! You know I 
have to leave!” But I say, “May this be the greatest misfor¬ 
tune in your life. Your train will come, if all is well, around 
dawn tomorrow. In the meantime I hope your appetite and 


221 


Tit for Tat 


digestion are good, because I can smell the borsht already! 
All I ask,” I say, “is just tell me the truth. Tell me if you've 
ever touched a borsht like this before. But I want the ab¬ 
solute truth!” What’s the use of talking—he had to admit it: 
never before in all his life had he tasted a borsht like this. 
Never. He even started to ask how you made the borsht, 
what you put into it, and how long you cooked it. Every¬ 
thing. And I say: “Don’t worry about that! Here, taste this 
wine and tell me what you think of it. After all, you re an 
expert. But the truth! Remember—nothing but the truth! 
Because if there is anything I hate, it’s flattery . . . 

So we took a glass, and then another glass, and we went to 
bed. And what do you think happened? My traveler over¬ 
slept, and missed the early morning train. When he wakes 
up he boils over! He jumps on me like a murderer. Wasn’t 
it up to me, out of fairness and decency, to wake him up in 
time? Because of me he’s going to have to take a loss, a 
heavy loss—he doesn’t even know himself how heavy. It was 
all my fault. I ruined him. I! ... So I let him talk. I listen, 
quietly, and when he’s all through, I say: ‘Tell me yourself, 
aren’t you a queer sort of person? In the first place, what s 
your hurry? What are you rushing for? How long is a per¬ 
son’s life altogether? Does he have to spoil that little with 
rushing and hurrying? And in the second place, have you 
forgotten that today is the third day since the bris? Doesn’t 
that mean a thing to you? Where we come from, on the 
third day we’re in the habit of putting on a feast better than 
the one at the bris itself. The third day it s something to 
celebrate! You’re not going to spoil the celebration, are 

you?” 

What can he do? He can’t control himself any more, and 
he starts laughing—a hysterical laugh. “What good does it do 
to talk?” he says. “You’re a real leech!” “Just as you say,” I 
tell him, “but after all, you’re a visitor, aren’t you?” 

At the dinner table, after we’ve had a drink or two, I call 
out to him: “Look,” I say, “it may not be proper—after all, 
we’re Jews—to talk about milk and such things while we’re 



Sholom Aleichem 


eating meat, but I’d like to know your honest opinion: what 
do you think of kreplach with cheese?” He looks at me with 
ckstrust. “How did we get around to that?” he asks. "Just 
like this,” I explain to him. “I'd like to have you try the 
cheese kreplach that my wife makes—because tonight, you 
see, we’re going to have a dairy supper . . .” This is too 
much for him, and he comes right back at me with, "Not 
this time! You’re trying to k£ep me here another day, I can 
see that. But you can’t do it. It isn’t right! It isn’t right!” 
And from the way he fusses and fumes it’s easy to see that 
I won’t have to coax him too long, or fight with him either, 
because what is he but a man with an appetite, who has only 
one philosophy, which he practices at the table? So I say this 
to him: “I give you my word of honor, and if that isn’t 
enough, I’ll give you my hand as well—here, shake—that to¬ 
morrow I’ll wake you up in time for the earliest train. I 
promise it, even if the world turns upside down. If I don’t, 
may I—you know what!” At this he softens and says to me: 
“Remember, we’re shaking hands on that!” And I: “A prom¬ 
ise is a promise.” And my wife makes a dairy supper—how 
can I describe it to you? With such kreplach that my traveler 
has to admit that it was all true: he has a wife too, and she 
makes kreplach too, but how can you compare hers with 
these? It’s like night to day! 

And I kept my word, because a promise is a promise. I 
woke him when it was still dark, and started the samovar. 
He finished packing and began to say goodbye to me and 
the rest of the household in a very handsome, friendly style. 
You could see he was a gentleman. But I interrupt him: 
“We’ll say goodbye a little later. First, we have to settle up.” 
“What do you mean—settle up?” “Settle up,” I say, “means 
to add up the figures. That’s what I’m going to do now. I’ll 
add them up, let you know what it comes to, and you will be 
so kind as to pay me.” 

His face flames red. “Pay you?” he shouts. “Pay you for 
what?” “For what?” I repeat. “You want to know for what? 
For everything. The food, the drink, the lodging.” This time 



223 


Tit for Tat 


he becomes white—not red—and he says to me: I don t 
understand you at all. You came and invited me to the bris. 
You stopped me at the train. You took my bag away from 
me. You promised me eternal life.” ‘That s right, I inter¬ 
rupt him. “That’s right. But what’s one thing got to do with 
the other? When you came to the bris you earned your re¬ 
ward in heaven. But food and drink and lodging—do I have 
to give you these things for nothing? After all, you’re a busi¬ 
nessman, aren’t you? You should understand that fish costs 
money, and that the wine you drank was the very best, and 
the beer, too, and the cherry cider. And you remember how 
you praised the tzimmes and the puddings and the borsht. 
You remember how you licked your fingers. And the cheese 
kreplach smelled pretty good to you, too. Now, I’m glad you 
enjoyed these things; I don’t begrudge you that in the least. 
But certainly you wouldn’t expect that just because you 
earned a reward in heaven, and enjoyed yourself in the bar¬ 
gain, that / should pay for it?” My traveling friend was really 
sweating; he looked as if he’d have a stroke. He began to 
throw himself around, yell, scream, call for help. “This is 
Sodom’” he cried. “Worse than Sodom! It’s the worst outrage 
the world has ever heard of! How much do you want?” 
Calmly I took a piece of paper and a pencil and began to 
add it up. I itemized everything, I gave him an inventory of 
everything he ate, of every hour he spent in my place. All 
in all it added up to something like thirty-odd rubles and 

some kopeks —I don’t remember it exactly. 

When he saw the total, my good man went green and 
yellow, his hands shook, and his eyes almost popped out, and 
again he let out a yell, louder than before. “What did I fall 
into—a nest of thieves? Isn’t there a single human being 
here 9 Is there a God anywhere?” So I say to him, “Look, 
sir, do you know what? Do you know what you’re yelling 
about? Do you have to eat your heart out? Here is my sug¬ 
gestion: let’s ride into town together—it’s not far from here 

_and we’ll find some people—there's a rabbiner there 

let’s ask the rabbi. And we’ll abide by what he says.” When 



Sholom Aleiehem 


he heard me talk like that, he quieted down a little. And— 
don't worry—we hired a horse and wagon, climbed in, and 
rode off to town, the two of us, and went straight to the 
rabbi. 

When we got to the rabbi’s house, we found him just 
finishing his morning prayers. He folded up his prayer shawl 
and put his philacteries away. “Good morning,” we said to 
him, and he: “What’s the news today?” The news? My 
friend tears loose and lets him have the whole story—every¬ 
thing from A to Z. He doesn’t leave a word out. He tells 
how he stopped at the station, and so on and so on, and 
when he’s through he whips out the bill I had given him 
and hands it to the rabbi. And when the rabbi had heard 
everything, he says: “Having heard one side I should now 
like to hear the other.” And turning to me, he asks, “What 
do you have to say to all that?” I answer: “Everything he 
says is true. There’s not a word I can add. Only one thing 
I’d like to have him tell you—on his word of honor: did he 
eat the fish, and did he drink the beer and cognac and xhe 
cider, and did he smack his lips over the borsht that my wife 
made?” At this the man becomes almost frantic, he jumps 
and he thrashes about like an apoplectic. The rabbi begs 
him not to boil like that, not to be so angry, because anger 
is a grave sin. And he asks him again about the fish and the 
borsht and the kreplach, and if it was true that he had drunk 
not only the wine, but beer and cognac and cider as well. 
Then the rabbi puts on his spectacles, looks the bill over 
from top to bottom, checks every line, and finds it correct! 
Thirty-odd rubles and some kopeks , and he makes his judg¬ 
ment brief: he tells the man to pay the whole thing, and for 
the wagon back and forth, and a judgment fee for the rabbi 
himself . . . 

The man stumbles out of the rabbi’s house looking as if 
he’d been in a steam bath too long, takes out his purse, pulls 
out two twenty-fives and snaps at me: “Give me the change.” 
“What change?” I ask, and he says: “For the thirty you 
charged me—for that bill you gave me.” “Bill? What bill? 


Tit for Tat 


What thirty are you talking about? What do you think I am, 
a highwayman? Do you expect me to take money from you? 
I see a man at the railroad station, a total stranger; I take his 
bag away from him, and drag him off almost by force to our 
own bris, and spend a wonderful Shabbes with him. So am 
I going to charge him for the favor he did me, and for the 
pleasure I had?” Now he looks at me as if I really am crazy, 
and says: ‘‘Then why did you carry on like this? Why did 
you drag me to the rabbi?” “Why this? Why that?” I say to 
him. “You’re a queer sort of person, you are! I wanted to 
show you what kind of man our rabbi was, that’s all . . 

When he finished the story, my litigant, Reb Nachman 
Lekach, got up with a flourish, and the other three partners 
followed him. They buttoned their coats and prepared to 
leave. But I held them off. I passed the cigarettes around 
again, and said to the storyteller: 

“So you told me a story about a rabbi. Now maybe you’ll 
be so kind as to let me tell you a story—also about a rabbi, 
but a much shorter story than the one you told.” 

And without waiting for a yes or no, I started right in, 
and made it brief: 

This happened, I began, not so long ago, and in a large 
city, on Yom Kippur eve. A stranger falls into the town—a 
businessman, a traveler, who goes here and there, every¬ 
where, sells merchandise, collects money . . . On this day 
he comes into the city, walks up and down in front of the 
synagogue, holding his sides with both hands, asks everybody 
he sees where he can find the rabbi. “What do you want the 
rabbi for?” people ask. “What business is that of yours?” he 
wants to know. So they don’t tell him. And he asks one 
man, he asks another: “Can you tell where the rabbi lives?” 
“What do you want the rabbi for?” “What do you care?” 
This one and that one, till finally he gets the answer, finds 
the rabbi’s house, goes in, still holding his sides with both 
hands. He calls the rabbi aside, shuts the door, and says, 



Sholom Aleichem 


226 


‘•Rabbi, this is my story. I am a traveling man, and I have 
money with me, quite a pile. It's not my money. It be¬ 
longs to my clients—first to God and then to my clients. 
It's Yam Kippur eve. I can't carry money with me on Yom 
Kippur, and I'm afraid to leave it at my lodgings. A sum 
like that! So do me a favor—take it, put it away in your 
strong box till tomorrow night, after Yom Kippur. 

And without waiting, the man unbuttons h.s vest and 
draws out one pack after another, crisp and clean, the real 


red, crackling, hundred ruble notes! 

Seeing how much there was, the rabbi said to him: 1 beg 
your pardon. You don’t know me, you don’t know who I 
am.” “What do you mean, I don’t know who you are? You re 
a rabbi, aren’t you?” “Yes, I’m a rabbi. But I don’t know you 

_who you are or what you are.” They bargain back and 

forth. The traveler: “You’re a rabbi.” The rabbi: “I don t 
know who you are.” And time does not stand still. It’s al¬ 
most Yom Kippur! Finally the rabbi agrees to take the 
money. The only thing is, who should be the witnesses. You 
can’t trust just anyone in a matter like that. 

So the rabbi sends for the leading townspeople, the very 
cream, rich and respectable citizens, and says to them: “This 
is what I called you for. This man has money with him, a tidy 
sum, not his own, but first God’s and then his clients’. He 
wants me to keep it for him till after Yom Kippur. There¬ 
fore I want you to be witnesses, to see how much he leaves 
with me, so that later—you understand?” And the rabbi took 
the trouble to count it all over three times before the eyes 
of the townspeople, wrapped the notes in a kerchief, sealed 
the kerchief with wax, and stamped his initials on the seal. 
He passed this from one man to the other, saying. Now 
look. Here is my signature, and remember, you’re the wit¬ 
nesses.” The kerchief with the money in it he handed over 
to his wife, had her lock it in a chest, and hide the keys 
where no one could find them. And he himself, the rabbi, 
went to shul, and prayed and fasted as it was ordained, lived 
through Yom Kippur, came home, had a bite to eat, looked 



227 


Tit for Tat 


up, and there was the traveler. “Good evening. Rabbi.” 
“Good evening. Sit down. What can I do for you?” “Noth¬ 
ing. I came for my package.” “What package?” “The 
money.” “What money?” “The money I left with you to 
keep for me.” “You gave me money to keep for you? 
When was that?” 

The traveler laughs out loud. He thinks the rabbi is jok¬ 
ing with him. The rabbi asks: “What are you laughing at?” 
And the man says: “It’s the first time I met a rabbi who 
liked to play tricks.” At this the rabbi is insulted. No one, 
he pointed out, had ever called him a trickster before. “Tell 
me, my good man, what do you want here?” 

When he heard these words, the stranger felt his heart 
stop. “Why, Rabbi, in the name of all that’s holy, do you 
want to kill me? Didn’t I give you all my money? That is, 
not mine, but first God’s and then my clients’? I’ll remind 
you, you wrapped it in a kerchief, sealed it with wax, locked 
it in your wife’s chest, hid the key where no one could find 
it. And here is better proof: there were witnesses, the lead¬ 
ing citizens of the city!” And he goes ahead and calls them 
all off by name. In the midst of it a cold sweat breaks out on 
his forehead, he feels faint, and asks for a glass of water. 

The rabbi sends the shammes off to the men the traveler 
had named—the leading citizens, the flower of the commu¬ 
nity. They come running from all directions. “What’s the 
matter? What’s happened?” “A misfortune. A plot! A mill¬ 
stone around our necks! He insists that he brought a pile 
of money to me yesterday, to keep over Yom Kip pur, and 
that you were witnesses to the act.” 

The householders look at each other, as if to say: “Here 
is where we get a nice bone to lick!” And they fall on the 
traveler: how could he do a thing like that? He ought to be 
ashamed of himself! Thinking up an ugly plot like that 
against their rabbi! 

When he saw what was happening, his arms and legs went 
limp, he just about fainted. But the rabbi got up, went to 
the chest, took out the kerchief and handed it to him. 



Sholom Aleichem 

“What’s the matter with you! Here! Here is your money! 
Take it and count it, see if it’s right, here in front of your 
witnesses. The seal, as you see, is untouched. The wax is 

whole, just as it ought to be.” 

The traveler felt as if a new soul had been installed in his 
body. His hands trembled and tears stood in his eyes. 

“Why did you have to do it. Rabbi? Why did you have to 

play this trick on me? A trick like this. 

“I just wanted to show you—the kind—of—leading citi¬ 
zens—we have in our town.” 



MODERN CHILDREN 


Modern children, did you say? Ah, you bring them into the 
world, sacrifice yourself for them, you slave for them day and 
night—and what do you get out of it? You think that one 
way or another it would work out according to your ideas or 
station. After all, I don’t expect to marry them off to mil¬ 
lionaires, but then I don’t have to be satisfied with just any¬ 
one, either. So I figured I’d have at least a little luck with 
my daughters. Why not? In the first place, didn’t the Lord 
bless me with handsome girls; and a pretty face, as you your¬ 
self have said, is half a dowry. And besides, with God’s help. 
I’m not the same Tevye I used to be. Now the best match, 
even in Yehupetz, is not beyond my reach. Don’t you agree 

with me? 

But there is a God in heaven who looks after everything, 
“a Lord merciful and compassionate” who has His way with 
me summer and winter, in season and out. And He says to 
me, “Tevye, don’t talk like a fool. Leave the management of 

the world to Me.” 

So listen to what can happen in this great world of ours. 
And to whom does it have to happen? To Tevye, shlimazl. 

To make a long story short, 1 had just lost everything I 
had in a stock market investment I had gotten involved in 
through that relative of mine, Menachem-Mendel (may his 



Sholom Aleichem 


230 


name and memory be forever blotted out), and I was very 
low. It looked as if it was all over with me. No more Tevye, 
no more dairy business. 

“Fool,” my wife says to me. “You have worried enough. 
You’ll get nowhere worrying. You’ll just eat your heart out. 
Pretend that robbers had broken in and taken everything 
away . . . I’ll tell you what,” she says to me. “Go out for 
a while. Go see Lazer-Wolf, the butcher, at Anatevka. He 
wants to see you about something very important.” 

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “What is he so anxious to 
see me about? If he is thinking of that milch cow of ours, 
let him take a stick and knock that idea out of his head.” 

“What are you so anxious about her for?” she says to me. 
“The milk that we get out of her, or the cheese or butter?” 

“I’m not thinking about that,” I answer. “It’s just the idea. 
It would be a sin to give the poor thing away to be slaugh¬ 
tered. You can’t do that to a living creature. It is written in 
the Bible . . .” 

“Oh, enough of that!” she comes back at me. “The whole 
world knows already that you’re a man of learning! You do 
what I tell you. You go over and see Lazer-Wolf. Every 
Thursday when our Tzeitl goes there for meat, he won’t 
leave her alone. ‘You tell your father,’ he keeps saying, ‘to 
come and see me. It’s important.’ ” 

Well, once in a while you have to obey your wife. So I 
let her talk me into it, and I go over to Anatevka, about 
three miles away. He wasn’t home. “Where can he be?” I 
ask a snubnosed woman who is bustling around the place. 

“They’re slaughtering today,” says the woman, “and he 
went down to bring an ox. He’ll be coming back pretty 
soon.” 

So I wait. And while I’m waiting I look around the house 
a little. And from what I see, it looks as if Lazer-Wolf has 
been a good provider. There is a cupboard filled with cop- 
perware—at least a hundred and fifty rubles’ worth; a couple 
of samovars, some brass trays, silver candlesticks and gilded 



231 


Illodern Children 


goblets. And a fancy Hannukah lamp and some trinkets 
made of porcelain and silver and everything. 

“Lord Almighty!” I think to myself. “If I can only live to 
see things like that at my children's homes . . . What a 
lucky fellow he is—such wealth, and nobody to support! Both 
his children are married, and he himself is a widower . . . 
Well, at last the door opens and in stamps Lazer-Wolf. 
“Well, Reb Tevye,” he says. “What’s the matter? Why is 
it so hard to get hold of you? How goes it?” 

“How should it go?” I say to him. “I go and I go, and I get 
nowhere. ‘Neither gold nor health nor life itself,’ as the 
Torah says.” 

“Don’t complain, Reb Tevye,” he answers me. “Compared 
with what you were when I first knew you, you re a rich 
man today.” 

“May we both have what I still need to make me a rich 
man,” I say. “But I am satisfied, thank God. ‘Abracadabra 

askakudra ’ as the Talmud says.” 

“You’re always there with a line of Talmud,” he comes 
back. “What a lucky man you are, Reb Tevye, to know all 
these things. But what does all that wisdom and knowledge 
have to do with us? We have other things to talk about. Sit 
down, Tevye.” He lets out a yell, “Let’s have some tea!” And 
as if by magic the snubnosed woman appears, snatches the 

samovar, and is off to the kitchen. 

“Now that we are alone,” he says to me, 4 we can talk busi¬ 
ness. Here is the story. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a 
long time. I tried to reach you through your daughter. How 
many times have I begged you to come? You understand, 

I’ve been casting an eye ...” 

“I know,” I say, “that you have been casting an eye on her, 

but it’s no use. Your pains are wasted, Reb Lazer-Wolf. 

There’s no use talking about it.” 

“Why not?” he asks, with a frightened look. 

“Why yes?” says I. “I can wait. I’m in no hurry. My house 

isn’t on fire.” 



Sholom Aleichem *** 

"But why should you wait, if you can arrange it now?” 

"Oh, that’s not important,” I say. "Besides, I feel sorry for 
the poor thing.” 

“Look at him,” says Lazer-Wolf with a laugh. "He feels 
sorry for her . . . If somebody heard you, Reb Tevye, he’d 
have sworn that she was the only one you had. It seems to 
me that you have a few more without her.” 

"Does it bother you if I keep them?” I say. "If anyone is 

jealous . . .” 

"Jealous? Who is talking of jealousy?” he cries. “On the 
contrary, I know they’re superior, and that is exactly why 
—you understand? And don't forget, Reb Tevye, that you can 
get something out of it too!” 

"Of course ... I know all a person can get from you 
... A piece of ice—in winter. We’ve known that from 
way back.” 

"Forget it,” he says to me, sweet as sugar. “That was a 
long time ago. But now—after all—you and I—we’re prac¬ 
tically in one family, aren’t we?” 

"Family? What kind of family? What are you talking 
about, Reb Lazer-Wolf?” 

"You tell me, Reb Tevye. I’m beginning to wonder . . .” 

“What are you wondering about? We’re talking about my 
milch cow. The one you want to buy from me.” 

Lazer-Wolf throws back his head and lets out a roar. 
"That’s a good one!” he howls at me. "A cow! And a milch 
cow at that!” 

"If not the cow,” I say, "then what were we talking about? 
You tell me so I can laugh too.” 

“Why, about your daughter. We were talking about your 
daughter Tzeitl the whole time. You know, Reb Tevye, that 
I have been a widower for quite a while now. So I thought, 
why do I have to go looking all over the world—get mixed 
up with matchmakers, those sons of Satan? Here we both 
are. I know you, you know me. It’s not like running after 
a stranger. I see her in my shop every Thursday. She’s made 
a good impression on me. I’ve talked with her a few times. 



233 


Modern Children 


She looks like a nice, quiet girl. And as for me—as you see 
for yourself—I’m pretty well off. I have my own house. A 
couple of stores, some hides in the attic, a little money in 
the chest. I live pretty well . . . Look, Tevye, why do we 
have to do a lot of bargaining, try to impress each other, 
bluff each other? Listen to me. Let’s shake hands on it and 
call it a match.” 

Well, when I heard that I just sat and stared. I couldn’t 
say a word. All I could think was: Lazer-Wolf . . . Tzeitl 
. . . He had children as old as she was. But then I reminded 
myself: what a lucky thing for her. She’ll have everything 
she wants. And if he is not so good-looking? There were 
other things besides looks. There was only one thing I really 
had against him: he could barely read his prayers. But then, 
can everybody be a scholar? There are plenty of wealthy 
men in Anatevka, in Mazapevka, and even in Yehupetz who 
don’t know one letter from another. Just the same, if it’s 
their luck to have a little money they get all the respect and 
honor a man could want. As the saying goes, “There’s learn¬ 
ing in a strongbox, and wisdom in a purse . . . 

“Well, Reb Tevye,” he says. “Why don’t you say some¬ 
thing?” 

“What do you want me to do? Yell out loud?” I ask 
mildly, as if not wanting to look anxious. “You understand, 
don’t you, that this is something a person has to think over. 

It’s no trifle. She’s my eldest child.” 

“All the better,” he says. “Just because she is your eldest 
That will give you a chance to marry off your second 
daughter, too, and then, in time with God’s help, the third. 
Don’t you see?” 

“Amen. The same to you,” I tell him. “Marrying them off 
is no trick at all. Just let the Almighty send each one her 
predestined husband.” 

“No,” he says. “That isn’t what I mean. I mean something 
altogether different. I mean the dowry. That you won’t need 
for her. And her clothes I’ll take care of too. And maybe 
you’ll find something in your own purse besides . . . 



234 


Sholom Aleichem 

“Shame on you!” I shout at him. “You’re talking just as if 
you were in the butcher shop. What do you mean my 
purse? Shame! My Tzeitl is not the sort that I’d have to sell 
for money!” 

“Just as you say,” he answers. “I meant it all for the best. 
If you don’t like it, let’s forget it. If you’re happy without 
that. I'm happy too. The main thing is, let’s get it done with. 
And I mean right away. A house must have a mistress. You 
know what I mean . . .” 

“Just as you say,” I agree. “I won’t stand in your way. But 
I have to talk it over with my wife. In affairs like this she 
has her say. It’s no trifle. As Rashi says, ‘A mother is not a 
dust rag.’ Besides, there’s Tzeitl herself to be asked. How 
does the saying go? All the kinsmen were brought to the 
wedding—and the bride was left home . . 

“What foolishness!” says Lazer-Wolf. “Is this something to 
ask her about? Tell her, Reb Tevye! Go home. Tell her 
what is what, and get the wedding canopy ready.” 

“No, Reb Lazer-Wolf,” I say. “That’s not the way you treat 

a young girl.” 

“All right,” he says. “Go home and talk it over. But first, 
Reb Tevye, let’s have a little drink. How about it?” 

“Just as you say,” I agree. “Why not? How does the saying 
go? ‘Man is human—and a drink is a drink.’ There is,” I tell 
him, “a passage in the Talmud . . .” And I give him a pas¬ 
sage. I don’t know myself what I said. Something from the 
Song of Songs or the Hagadah . . . 

Well, we took a drop or two—as it was ordained. In the 
meantime the woman had brought in the samovar and we 
made ourselves a glass or two of punch, had a very good 
time together, exchanged a few toasts—talked—made plans 
for the wedding—discussed this and that—and then back to 
the wedding. 

“Do you realize, Reb Lazer-Wolf, what a treasure she is?” 

“I know . . . Believe me, I know ... If I didn’t I would 
never have suggested anything . . .” 

And we both go on shouting. I: “A jewel! A diamond! I 



235 


Modern Children 


hope you’ll know how to treat her! Not like a butcher . . 

And he: “Don’t worry, Reb Tevye. What she’ll eat in my 
house on weekdays she never had in your house on holi¬ 
days.” 

“Tut, tut,” I said. “Feeding a woman isn’t everything. The 
richest man in the world doesn’t eat five-ruble gold pieces, 
and a pauper doesn’t eat stones. You re a coarse tellow, 
Lazer-Wolf. You don’t even know how to value her talents 
—her baking—her cooking! Ah, Lazer-Wolf! The fish she 
makes! You’ll have to learn to appreciate her!” 

And he: “Tevye, pardon me for saying it, but you’re some¬ 
what befuddled. You don't know your man. You don’t know 
me at all ...” 

And I: “Put gold on one scale and Tzeitl on the other 
. . . Do you hear, Reb Lazer-Wolf, if you had a million 
rubles, you wouldn’t be worth her little finger.” 

And he again: “Believe me, Tevye, you’re a big fool, even 

if you are older than I am.” 

We yelled away at each other that way for a long time, 
stopping only for a drink or two, and when I came home 
it was late at night and my feet felt as if they had been 
shackled. And my wife, seeing right away that I was tipsy, 
gave me a proper welcome. 

“Sh . . . Golde, control yourself,” I say to her cheerfully, 
almost ready to start dancing. “Don’t screech like that, my 

soul. We have congratulations coming.” 

“Congratulations? For what? For having sold that poor 

cow to Lazer-Wolf?” 

“Worse than that,” I say. 

“Traded her for another one? And outsmarted Lazer-Wolf 

—poor fellow?” 

“Still worse.” 

“Talk sense,” she pleads. “Look, I have to haggle with 
him for every word.” 

“Congratulations, Golde,” I say once more. Congratu¬ 
lations to both of us. Our Tzeitl is engaged to be married.” 
“If you talk like that then I know you’re drunk,” she says- 



Sholom Aleichem 

“And not slightly, either. You’re out of your head. You must 

have found a real glassful somewhere.” 

“Yes. I had a glass of whisky with Lazer-Wolf, and I had 
some punch with Lazer-Wolf, but I’m still in my right 
senses. Lo and behold, Golde darling, our Tzeitl has really 
and truly and officially become betrothed to Lazer-Wolf him- 

seJf.” 

And I tell her the whole story from start to finish, how 
and what and when and why. Everything we discussed, word 

for word. 

“Do you hear, Tevye,” my wife finally says, “my heart told 
me all along that when Lazer-Wolf wanted to see you it was 
for something. Only I was afraid to think about it. Maybe 
nothing would come of it. Oh, dear God, I thank Thee, I 
thank Thee, Heavenly Father . . . May it all be for the best. 
May she grow old with him in riches and honor—not like 
that first wife of his, Fruma-Sarah, whose life with him was 
none too happy. She was, may she forgive me for saying it, 
an embittered woman. She couldn’t get along with anybody. 
Not at all like our Tzeitl . . . Oh, dear God, I thank Thee, 
dear God . . . Well, Tevye, didn’t I tell you, you simpleton 
. . . Did you have to worry? If a thing has to happen it 

will happen ...” 

“I agree with you,” said I. “There is a passage in the 
Talmud that covers that very point ...” 

“Don’t bother me with your passages,” she said. “We’ve 
got to get ready for the wedding. First of all, make out a 
list for Lazer-Wolf of all the things Tzeitl will need. She 
doesn’t have a stitch of underwear, not even a pair of stock¬ 
ings. And as for clothes, she’ll need a silk dress for the wed¬ 
ding, and a cotton one for summer, a woolen one for winter, 
and petticoats, and cloaks—she should have at least two— 
one, a fur-lined cloak for weekdays and a good one with a 
ruffle for Saturdays. And how about a pair of button-shoes 
and a corset, gloves, handkerchiefs, a parasol, and all the 
other things that a girl nowadays has to have?” 



237 


Modern Children 


“Where, Golde, darling, did you get acquainted with all 
these riggings?” I ask her. 

“Why not?” says she. “Haven’t I ever lived among civi¬ 
lized people? And didn’t I see, back in Kasrilevka, how ladies 
dressed themselves? You let me do all the talking with him 
myself. Lazer-Wolf, is, after all, a man of substance. He 
won't want everybody in the family to come bothering him. 
Let’s do it properly. If a person has to eat pork, let him eat 
a bellyful . . .” 

So we talked and we talked till it was beginning to get 
light. “My wife,” I said, “it’s time to get the cheese and but¬ 
ter together so I can start for Boiberik. It is all very wonder¬ 
ful indeed, but you still have to work for a living.” 

And so, when it was still barely light I harnessed my little 
old horse and went off to Boiberik. When I got to the 
Boiberik marketplace—Oho! Can a person ever keep a secret? 
Everybody knew about it already, and I was congratulated 
from all sides. “Congratulations, congratulations! Reb Tevye, 

when does the wedding come off?” 

“The same to you, the same to you,” I tell them. “It looks 
as if the saying is right: ‘The father isn’t born yet and the 
son is dancing on the rooftops . . ” 

“Forget about that!” they cry out. “You can’t get away 
with that! What we want is treats. Why, how lucky you are, 
Reb Tevye! An oil well! A gold mine!” 

“The well runs dry,” I tell them, “and all that’s left is a 

hole in the ground.” 

Still, you can’t be a hog and leave your friends in the 
lurch. “As soon as I’m through delivering I’ll be back,” I tell 
them. “There’ll be drinks and a bite to eat. Let’s enjoy our¬ 
selves. As the Good Book says, ‘Even a beggar can cele¬ 
brate.’ ” 

So I got through with my work as fast as I could and 
joined the crowd in a drink or two. We wished each other 
good luck as people do, and then I got back into my cart 
and started for home again, happy as could be. It was a beau- 



Sholom Aleichem 


238 


summer day, the sun was hot, but on both sides of the 
^ oad there was shade, and the odor of the pines was wonder¬ 
ful. Like a prince I stretched myself out in the wagon and 
eased up on the reins. “Go along,” I said to the little old 
horse, “go your own way. You ought to know it by now.” 
And myself, I clear my throat and start off on some of the 
old tunes. I am in a holiday mood, and the songs I sing are 
those of Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur. As I sing I look 
up at the sky but my thoughts are concerned with things be¬ 
low. The heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth He gave to 
the Children of Adam, for them to brawl around in, to live 
in such luxury that they have time to tear each other apart 
for this little honor or that . . . They don’t even understand 
how one ought to praise the Lord for the good things that 
He gives them . . . But we, the poor people, who do not 
live in idleness and luxury, give us but one good day and we 
thank the Lord and praise Him; we say, “Ohavti, 1 love Him’' 
—the Highest One— “for He hears my voice and my prayer , 
He inclines His ear to me . . . For the waves of death com¬ 
passed me, the floods of Belial assailed me . . Here a cow 
falls down and is injured, there an ill wind brings a kinsman 
of mine, a good-for-nothing, a Menachem-Mendel from 
Yehupetz who takes away my last penny; and I am sure that 
the world has come to an end—there is no truth or justice 
left anywhere on earth . . . But what does the Lord do? He 
moves Lazer-Wolf with the idea of taking my daughter 
Tzeitl without even a dowry . . . And therefore I give 
thanks to Thee, dear God, again and again, for having looked 
upon Tevye and come to his aid ... I shall yet have joy. I 
shall know what it is to visit my child and find her a mis¬ 
tress of a well-stocked home, with chests full of linens, pan- 
tries full of chicken fat and preserves, coops full of chickens, 
geese and ducks . . . 

Suddenly my horse dashes off downhill, and before I can 
lift my head to look around I find myself on the ground with 
all my empty pots and crocks and my cart on top of me! 
With the greatest difficulty I drag myself out from under 



239 


Modern Children 


and pull myself up, bruised and half-dead, and I vent my 
wrath on the poor little horse. “Sink into the earth!” I shout. 
“Who asked you to show that you know how to run? You 
almost ruined me altogether, you devil!” And I gave him as 
much as he could take. You could see that he realized he 
had gone a little too far. He stood there with his head down, 
humble, ready to be milked . . . Still cursing him, I turn 
the cart upright, gather up my pots, and off I go. A 
bad omen, I tell myself, and I wonder what new misfortunes 
might be awaiting me . . . 

That’s just how it was. About a mile farther on, when I’m 
getting close to home, I see someone coming toward me. I 
drive up closer, look, and see that it’s Tzeitl. At the sight of 
her my heart sinks, I don’t know why. I jump down from the 
wagon. 

“Tzeitl, is that you? What are you doing here?” 

She falls on my neck with a sob. “My daughter, what are 
you crying about?” I ask her. 

“Oh,” she cries, “Father, Father!” And she is choked with 
tears. 

“What is it, daughter? What’s happened to you?” I say, 
putting my arm around her, patting and kissing her. 

“Father, Father, have pity on me. Help me . . .” 

“What are you crying for?” I ask, stroking her head. “Little 
fool, what do you have to cry for? For heaven’s sake,” I say, 
“if you say no it’s no. Nobody is going to force you. We 
meant it for the best, we did it for your own sake. But if it 
doesn’t appeal to you, what are we going to do? Apparently 
it was not ordained . . .” 

“Oh, thank you, Father, thank you,” she cries, and falls on 
my neck again and dissolves in tears. 

“Look,” I say, “you’ve cried enough for one day . . . Even 
eating pastry becomes tiresome . . . Climb into the wagon 
and let’s go home. Lord knows what your mother will be 

thinking.” 

So we both get into the cart and I try to calm her down. 
I tell her that we had not meant any harm to her. 



Sholom Aleichem * 

God knows the truth: all we wanted was to shield our 
daughter from poverty. “So it was not meant, I said, that 
you should have riches, all the comforts of life; or that we 
should have a little joy in our old age after all our hard 
work, harnessed, you might say, day and night to a wheel- 
barrow—no happiness, only poverty and misery and bad luck 
over and over ...” 

“Oh, Father,” she cries, bursting into tears again. “I'll hire 
myself out as a servant. I’ll carry rocks. I’ll dig ditches . . 

“What are you crying for, silly child?” I say. “Am I forc¬ 
ing you? Am I complaining? It's just that I feel so wretched 
that I have to get it off my chest; so I talk it over with Him, 
with the Almighty, about the way He deals with me. He is, 

I say, a merciful Father, He has pity on me, but He shows 
me what He can do, too; and what can I say? Maybe it has 
to be that way. He is high in heaven, high up, and we are 
here below, sunk in the earth, deep in the earth. So we must 
say that He is right and His judgment is right; because if we 
want to look at it the other way round, who am I? A worm 
that crawls on the face of the earth, whom the slightest 
breeze—if God only willed it—could annihilate in the blink 
of an eye. So who am I to stand up against Him with my 
little brain and give Him advice on how to run this little 
world of His? Apparently if He ordains it this way, it has 
to be this way. What good are complaints? Forty days be¬ 
fore you were conceived, the Holy Book tells us, an angel 
appeared and decreed: ‘Let Tevye’s daughter Tzeitl take 
Getzel, the son of Zorach, as her husband; and let Lazer- 
Wolf the butcher go elsewhere to seek his mate.’ And to 
you, my child, I say this: May God send you your predes¬ 
tined one, one worthy of you, and may he come soon. Amen. 
And I hope your mother doesn’t yell too much. I’ll get 
enough from her as it is.” 

Well, we came home at last. I unharnessed the little horse 
and sat down on the grass near the house to think things 
over, think up some fantastic tale to tell my wife. It was 
late, the sun was setting; in the distance frogs were croak- 



241 


Modern Children 


ing; the old horse, tied to a tree, was nibbling at the grass; 
the cows, just come from pasture, waited in the stalls to be 
milked. All around me was the heavenly smell of the fresh 
grass—like the Garden of Eden. I sat there thinking it all 
over . . . How cleverly the Eternal One has created this lit- 
tie world of His, so that every living thing, from man to a 
simple cow, must earn its food. Nothing is free. If you, little 
cow, wish to eat—then go, let yourself be milked, be the 
means of livelihood for a man and his wife and children. If 
you, little horse, wish to chew—then run back and forth 
every day with the milk to Boiberik. And you, Man, if you 
want a piece of bread—go labor, milk the cows, carry the 
pitchers, churn the butter, make the cheese, harness your 
horse, drag yourself every dawn to the datchas of Boiberik, 
scrape and bow to the rich ones of Yehupetz, smile at them, 
cater to them, ingratiate yourself with them, see to it that 
they are satisfied, don’t do anything to hurt their pride . . . 
Ah, but there still remains the question: Mah nishtano? 
Where is it written that Tevye must labor in their behalf, 
must get up before daybreak when God Himself is still 
asleep, just so that they can have a fresh piece of cheese, and 
butter for their breakfasts? Where is it written that I must 
rupture myself for a pot of thin gruel, a loaf of barley bread, 
while they—the rich ones of Yehupetz—loll around in 
their summer homes without so much as lifting a hand, and 
are served roast ducks and the best of knishes, blintzes and 
vertutin? Am I not a man as they are? Would it be a sin, 
for instance, if Tevye could spend one summer himself in a 
datcha somewhere? But then—where would people get 
cheese and butter? Who would milk the cows? The 
Yehupetz aristocrats, maybe? And at the very thought of it 
I burst out laughing. It’s like the old saying: “If God lis¬ 
tened to every fool what a different world it would be!” 

And then I heard someone call out, “Good evening, Reb 
Tevye.” I looked up and saw a familiar face—Motel 
Kamzoil, a young tailor from Anatevka. 

“Well, well,” I say, “you speak of the Messiah and look 



Sholom Aleichem 


242 


who’s here! Sit down. Motel, on God’s green earth. And what 
brings you here all of a sudden?" 

“What brings me here?” he answers. “My two feet.” 

And he sits down on the grass near me and looks off to¬ 
ward the barn where the girls are moving about with their 
pots and pitchers. “I have been wanting to come here for a 
long time, Reb Tevye,” he says at last, “only I never seem to 
have the time. You finish one piece of work and you start 
the next. I work for myself now, you know, and there is 
plenty to do, praise the Lord. All of us tailors have as much 
as we can do right now. It’s been a summer of weddings. 
Everybody is marrying off his children—everybody, even the 
widow Trihubecha.” 

“Everybody,” I say. “Everybody except Tevye. Maybe I am 
not worthy in the eyes of the Lord.” 

“No,” he answers quickly, still looking off where the girls 
are. “You’re mistaken, Reb Tevye. If you only wanted to you 
could marry off one of your children, too. It all depends on 
you . . .” 

“So?” I ask. “Maybe you have a match for Tzeitl?” 

“A perfect fit!” the tailor answers. 

“And,” I ask, “is it a good match at least?” 

“Like a glove!” he cries in his tailor’s language, still look¬ 
ing off at the girls. 

I ask, “In whose behalf is it then that you come? If he 
smells of a butcher shop I don’t want to hear another word!” 

“God forbid!” he says. “He doesn’t begin to smell of a 
butcher shop!” 

“And you really think he’s a good match?” 

“There never was such a match!” he answers promptly. 
“There are matches and matches, but this one, I want you to 
know, was made exactly to measure!” 

“And who, may I ask, is the man? Tell me!” 

“Who is it?” he says, still looking over yonder. “Who is it? 
Why, me—myself!” 

When he said that I jumped up from the ground as if I’d 



243 


Modern Children 


been scalded, and he jumped too, and there we stood facing 
each other like bristling roosters. “Either you're crazy,” I say 
to him, “or you’re simply out of your mind! What are you— 
everything? The matchmaker, the bridegroom, the ushers all 
rolled into one? I suppose you’ll play the wedding march 
too! I’ve never heard of such a thing—arranging a match for 
oneself!” 

But he doesn’t seem to listen. He goes right on talking. 

“Anyone who thinks I’m crazy is crazy himself! No, Reb 
Tevye, I have all my wits about me. A person doesn’t have 
to be crazy in order to want to marry your Tzeitl. For ex¬ 
ample, the richest man in our town—Lazer-Wolf, the 
butcher—wanted her too. Do you think it’s a secret? The 
whole town knows it. And as for being my own match¬ 
maker, I’m surprised at you! After all, Reb Tevye, you’re a 
man of the world. If a person sticks his finger in your mouth 
you know what to do! So what are we arguing about? Here 
is the whole story: your daughter Tzeitl and I gave each 
other our pledge more than a year ago now that we would 
marry . . 

If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have 
been easier to endure than these words. In the first place, 
how does a stitcher like Motel fit into the picture as my son- 
in-law? And in the second place, what kind of words are 
these, “We gave each other our pledge that we would 
marry?” And where do I come in? ... I ask him bluntly, 
“Do I still have the right to say something about my daugh¬ 
ter, or doesn’t anyone have to ask a father any more?” 

“On the contrary,” says Motel, “that’s exactly why I came 
to talk with you. I heard that Lazer-Wolf has been discussing 
a match, and I have loved her now for over a year. More 
than once I have wanted to come and talk it over with you, 
but every time I put it off a little. First, till I had saved up a 
few rubles for a sewing machine, and then till I got some 
decent clothes. Nowadays almost everybody has to have two 
suits and a few good shirts . . 



244 


Sholom Aleichem 

“You and your shirts!” I yell at him. “What childish non¬ 
sense is this? And what do you intend to do after you re 

married? Support your wife with shirts?” 

“Why,” he says, “why. I’m surprised at you, Reb Tevye. 
From what I hear, when you got married you didn’t have 
your own brick mansion either, and nevertheless here you 
are In any case, if the whole world gets along. I’ll get 

along, too. Besides, I have a trade, haven t I? 

To make a long story short, he talked me into it. For after 
all—why should we fool ourselves?—how do all Jewish chil¬ 
dren get married? If we began to be too particular, then no 
one in our class would ever get married at all . . . There 
was only one thing still bothering me, and that I still 
couldn’t understand. What did they mean—pledging their 
troth? What kind of world has this become? A boy meets a 
girl and says to her, “Let us pledge our troth.” Why, it’s 

just too free-and-easy, that’s all! 

But when I looked at this Motel standing there with his 
head bent like a sinner, I saw that he was not trying to get 
the best of anybody, and I thought: “Now, what am I be¬ 
coming so alarmed about? What am I putting on such airs 
for? What is my own pedigree? Reb Tzotzel’s grandchild! 
And what huge dowry can I give my daughter—and what 
fine clothes? So maybe Motel Kamzoil is only a tailor, but 
at the same time he is a good man, a worker; he 11 be able to 
make a living. And besides, he’s honest too. So what have I 
got against him?” 

“Tevye,” I say to myself, “don’t think up any childish argu¬ 
ments. Let them have their way.” Yes . . . but what am I 
going to do about my Golde? I’ll have plenty on my hands 
there. She’ll be hard to handle. How can I make her think 
it’s all right? . . . 

“You know what, Motel,” I said to the young suitor. “You 
go home. I’ll straighten everything out here. I’ll talk it over 
with this one and that one. Everything has to be done right. 
And tomorrow morning, if you haven’t changed your mind 
by that time, maybe we’ll see each other.” 



245 


Modern Children 


“Change my mind!” he yells at me. “You expect me to 
change my mind? If I do, I hope I never live to go away 
from here! May I become a stone, a bone, right here in front 
of you!” 

“What’s the use of swearing?” I ask him. “I believe you 
without the oath. Go along. Motel. Good night. And may 
you have pleasant dreams.” 

And I myself go to bed, too. But I can’t sleep. My head is 
splitting. I think of one plan and then another, till at last I 
come upon the right one. And what is that? Listen, I 11 tell 
you . . . 

It’s past midnight. All over the house we’re sound asleep. 
This one is snoring, that one is whistling. And suddenly I 
sit up and let out a horrible yell, as loud as I can: Help! 
Help! Help!” It stands to reason that when I let out this yell 
everybody wakes up, and first of all—Golde. 

“May God be with you, Tevye,” she gasps, and shakes me. 
“Wake up! What’s the matter with you? What are you howl¬ 
ing like this for?” 

I open my eyes, look around to see where I am, and call 
out in terror, “Where is she? Where is she?” 

“Where is who?” asks Golde. “What are you talking 

about?” 

I can hardly answer. “Fruma-Sarah. Fruma-Sarah, Lazer- 
Wolfs first wife . . . She was standing here a minute ago.” 

“You’re out of your head,” my wife says to me. “May God 
save you, Tevye. Do you know how long Fruma-Sarah has 

been dead?” 

“I know that she’s dead,” I say, “but just the same she 
was here just a minute ago, right here by the bed, talking to 
me. Then she grabbed me by the windpipe and started to 

choke me . . .” 

“What on earth is the matter with you, Tevye?” says my 
wife. “What are you babbling about? You must have been 
dreaming. Spit three times and tell me what you dreamt, and 
I’ll tell you what it meant.” 

“Long may you live, Golde,” I tell her. “Its lucky you 



Sholom Aleichem 


246 


woke me up or I’d have died of fright right on the spot. 
Get me a drink of water and I’ll tell you my dream. Only I 
beg you, Golde, don’t become frightened: the Holy Books 
tell us that sometimes only three parts of a dream come true, 
and the rest means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, here 
is my dream . . . 

“In the beginning I dreamt that we were having a cele¬ 
bration of some kind, I don’t know what. Either an engage¬ 
ment or a wedding. The house was crowded. All the men 
and women we knew were there—the rov and the shochet 
and everybody. And musicians, too ... In the midst of the 
celebration the door opens, and in comes your grandmother 
Tzeitl, may her soul rest in peace . . 

“Grandmother Tzeitl!” my wife shouts, turning pale as a 
sheet. “How did she look? How was she dressed?” 

“How did she look?" I say . . . “May our enemies look 
the way she looked. Yellow. A waxen yellow. And she was 
dressed—how do you expect?—in white. A shroud. She came 
up to me. ‘Congratulations,’ she said, ‘I am so happy that you 
picked such a fine young man for your Tzeitl who bears my 
name. He’s a fine, upstanding lad—this Motel Kamzoil . . . 
He was named after my uncle Mordecai, and even if he is a 
tailor he’s still an honest boy . . ” 

“A tailor!” gasps Golde. “Where does a tailor come into 
our family? In our family we have had teachers, cantors, 
shamosim, undertakers’ assistants, and other kinds of poor 
people. But a tailor—never!” 

“Don’t interrupt me, Golde,” I tell her. “Maybe your 
grandmother Tzeitl knows better . . . When I heard her 
congratulate me like that, I said to her, ‘What is that you 
said. Grandmother? About Tzeitl’s betrothed being a tailor? 
Did you say Motel? . . . You mean a butcher, don’t you? A 
butcher named Lazer-Wolf?’ 

“ ‘No,’ says your grandmother again. ‘No, Tevye. Your 
daughter is engaged to Motel, and he’s a tailor, and she’ll 
grow old with him—if the Lord wills—in comfort and 
honor.’ 



247 


Modern Children 


“ ‘But, Grandmother,’ I say again, ‘what can we do about 
Lazer-Wolf? Just yesterday I gave him my word . . 

“I had barely finished saying this when I looked up, and 
your grandmother Tzeitl is gone. In her place is Fruma- 
Sarah—Lazer-Wolfs first wife—and this is what she says: 
‘Reb Tevye, I have always considered you an honest man, a 
man of learning and virtue. But how does it happen that you 
should do a thing like this—let your daughter take my place, 
live in my house, carry my keys, wear my clothes, my 
jewelry, my pearls?’ 

“ ‘Is it my fault,’ I ask her, ‘if Lazer-Wolf wanted it that 
way?’ 

“ ‘Lazer-Wolf!’ she cries. ‘Lazer-Wolf will have a terrible 
fate, and your Tzeitl too, if she marries him. It’s a pity, Reb 
Tevye. I feel sorry for your daughter. She'll live with him no 
more than three weeks, and when the three weeks are up I’ll 
come to her by night and I’ll take her by the throat like 
this . . .’ And with these words Fruma-Sarah grabs me by 
the windpipe and begins choking me—so hard that if you 
hadn’t waked me up, by now I’d have been—far, fa t 

away ...” 

“P tu , ptu, ptu,” spits my wife three times. “It’s an evil 
spirit! May it fall into the river; may it sink into the earth; 
may it climb into attics; may it lie in the forest—but may it 
never harm us or our children! May that butcher have a 
dream like that! A dark and horrible dream! Motel Kam- 
zoil’s smallest finger is worth more than all of him, even if 
Motel is only a tailor; for if he was named after my uncle 
Mordecai he couldn’t possibly have been a tailor by birth. 
And if my grandmother—may she rest in peace—took the 
trouble to come all the way from the other world to con¬ 
gratulate us, why, all we can do is say that this is all 
for the best, and it couldn’t possibly be any better. Amen. 
Selah . . .” 

Well, why should I go on and on? 

The next day they were engaged, and not long after were 



Sholom Aleichem 


248 


married. And the two of them, praise the Lord, are happy. 
He does his own tailoring, goes around in Boiberik from one 
datcha to another picking up work; and she is busy day and 
night, cooking and baking and washing and tidying and 
bringing water from the well . . . They barely make enough 
for food. If I didn’t bring her some of our cheese and butter 
once in a while—or a few groschen sometimes—they would 
never be able to get by. But if you ask her my Tzeitl, I 
mean—she says everything is as good as it could be. Just let 
Motel stay in good health. 

So go complain about modern children. You slave for 
them, do everything for them! And they tell you that they 
know better. 

And . . . maybe they do . . . 



YOU MUSTN’T WEEP — 
IT’S YOM-TEV 


I am willing to bet any amount you want that no one in 
the world was as happy at the coming of spring as were the 
two of us—I, the cantor Peisi’s son. Motel, and the neigh- 
bor’s calf, Meni. (It was I who had given him that name.) 
Both of us together had crept out of our narrow winter quar¬ 
ters to greet the first day of spring, both of us together had 
felt the warm rays of the sun and together we had smelled 
the fresh odors of the newly sprouted grass. I, Motel, the 
cantor’s son, came out of a cold, damp cellar that smelled of 
sour dough and medicine and Meni, the neighbor’s calf, was 
let out of even the worse stench of a smell, filthy shed with 
flimsy walls through whose chinks the snow sifted in win¬ 
ter and the rain beat in summer. 

Having escaped into God’s free world, the two of us, Mem 
and I, began to show our unbounded joy, each in his own 
way. I, Motel, the cantor’s son, lifted up both my arms above 
my head, opened my mouth, and drew in as much of the 
fresh warm air as my lungs could contain. And I felt as 
though I were growing in height, as though I were drawn up 
there into the blue sky where the fleecy clouds drifted, up 
there where the birds dipped and rose and were lost to view. 
And from my overfilled breast there escaped a song that was 



250 


Sholom Aleichem 

even lovelier than the songs my father used to lead in the 
synagogue during holidays, a song without words, without 
notes, without motif—more like the song of a waterfall or 
the waves of the ocean—a sort of Song of Songs, a hymn of 
praise: ‘ O Father,” I sang, “O Heavenly Father . . .” 

Meni, the neighbor’s calf, showed his joy quite differently. 
First of all, he buried his black, wet muzzle in the dirt, poked 
at the earth three or four times with his forepaws, lifted up 
his tail, reared himself up and let out a loud ma-a-a-a. This 
sounded so funny to me that I had to burst out laughing and 
to mimic the ma-a-a-a. The calf apparently was pleased by 
this, for it was not long before he repeated it all once more 
with the same intonation and the same leap. Naturally I did 
it over again, in every detail. This was repeated, several 
times—I leaped, the calf leaped; the calf let out his ma-a-a-a. 
I let out a ma-a-a-a. Who knows how long this might have 
gone on if it hadn’t been for my brother Elihu who came up 
from behind and slapped me sharply across the neck. 

“What’s the matter with you! A boy like you, almost nine 
years old, dancing with a calf! Into the house, you good- 
for-nothing. You’ll get it from Father.” 

Nonsense! My father won’t do anything to me. My father 
is sick. He hasn’t led the prayers in the synagogue since the 
Autumn Festivals. All night long I hear him coughing, and 
every day the doctor comes to the house. The doctor is a 
large, heavy-set man with a black mustache and laughing 
eyes—a cheerful man. He has only one name for me— Pupik. 
Whenever he sees me he pokes me in the belly. He keeps 
telling my mother not to stuff me with potatoes, and for 
the patient he prescribes bouillon and milk, milk and bouil¬ 
lon. My mother listens to him quietly and when he is gone 
she hides her face in her apron and her shoulders shake. 
Then she wipes her eyes, calls my brother Elihu aside and 
they whisper in low voices. What they are talking about I 
do not know, but they seem to be quarreling. My mother 
rrants to send Elihu somewhere and he won’t go. He says to 



251 Yon Mustn’t Weep—It’s Yom-Tev 

her, “Rather than go to them for help I’d kill myself. I’d 
sooner die.” 

“Bite your tongue,” says my mother in a low voice, gritting 
her teeth and looking as if she wanted to slap him. But soon 
she calms down and pleads with him: “What can I do, my 
son? You see how ill he is. We must do something for him.” 

“Then sell something,” says my brother, looking out of the 
corners of his eyes at the glass cabinet. My mother follows 
his glance, wipes her eyes again and sighs, “What can I sell? 
My soul? There is nothing left. Or shall I sell the empty 
cabinet?” 

“Well, why not?” says my brother. 

“Murderer!” cries out my mother. “How did I ever get 

such murderers for children?” 

My mother fumes and rages, cries her heart out, then 
wipes her eyes and forgives him. The same thing also hap¬ 
pened with the books, with the silver collar on my father’s 
tallis, with the two gilded goblets, with my mother’s silk dress, 
and all the other things which were sold one by one, each 
to a different buyer . . . 

The books were sold to Michal, the baggage-man, a man 
with a thin beard which he was constantly scratching. My 
poor brother had to go to him three times before he brought 
him to the house. My mother, relieved and happy to see him 
at last, put her finger across her lips to show him that he 
must speak softly so my father shouldn’t hear. Michal under¬ 
stood, raised his eyes to the shelf, scratched his beard, and 
said to her, “Well, show us, what have you got up there.” 

My mother beckoned to me to climb up on the table and 
take down the books. I didn’t have to be told twice. I 
jumped up so eagerly that I sprawled over the table and my 
brother, snapping at me to stop jumping like a crazy fool, 
pushed me aside. He climbed up on the table himself and 
handed the books down to Michal who scratched his beard 
with one hand, while with the other he leafed through the 
books and found fault with each one. This one had a poor 



Sholom Aleichem 


binding, that one had a worn back, another was simply 
worthless. And after he had looked through half of them, 
examined all the bindings, felt all the backs, he scratched his 
beard again: 

“If it was a complete set of Mishnayos, I might consider 
buying it . . 

My mother turned pale, and my brother on the contrary 
became red as fire. He leaped angrily at the baggage-man, 
“Why didn’t you tell us in the beginning that all you wanted 
to buy were Mishnayos? What did you have to come here 
and take up our time for?” 

“Be quiet!” my mother begged him, and a hoarse voice 
was heard from the next room where my father lay. 

“Who is there?” 

“Nobody,” my mother said and pushing my brother Elihu 
into my father’s room, began to bargain with Michal herself 
and finally sold him the books, apparently for very little, be¬ 
cause when my brother came back again and asked her how 
much, she pushed him aside, saying, “It’s none of your busi¬ 
ness.” And Michal snatched up the books quickly, shoved 
them into his bag and disappeared. 

Of all the things in the house that we sold none gave 
me as much pleasure as the glass cabinet. 

It is true that when they ripped the silver collar off my 
father’s tallis, it was a treat, too. First of all there was the 
bargaining with Yosel the goldsmith, a pale man with a red 
birthmark on his face. Three times he went away, but in the 
end he won out, and he sat down crosslegged near the win¬ 
dow with my father’s tallis, took out a small knife with a 
yellow, bone handle, bent his middle finger and began to rip 
the collar with such skill that I envied him! And yet you 
should have seen how my mother carried on. She cried and 
cried and cried. Even my brother Elihu, who has been con¬ 
firmed already and is practically a man, ready to be married, 
turned toward the door and pretended to be blowing his 


nose. 


253 You Mustn’t Weep—It’s Yom-Tev 

“What’s going on there?” called my father from the sick- 
room. 

“Nothing,” my mother answered, wiping her eyes, and her 
lower lip and the whole lower part of her face trembled so 
that it was all I could do to keep from laughing. 

But how does that compare with the taking away of the 

glass cabinet? 

First of all, how could anybody take it away? I had always 
taken it for granted that the cabinet was built into the wall, 
so how could it be moved? And if it was, where would my 
mother keep the bread and the dishes and the pewter spoons 
and forks (our two silver spoons and one silver fork, had 
been sold long ago). And where would we keep the nuitzos 
at Passover? These thoughts went through my head while 
Nachman the carpenter was measuring the cabinet with the 
big red thumbnail of his dirty right hand. He kept insisting 
that the cabinet wouldn’t go through the door. Here, he 
said, “is the width of the cabinet, and here is the width of 

the door—it will never go through here.” 

“Then how did it ever get in?” asked my brother Elihu. 

“Don’t ask me,” answered Nachman angrily. “Go ask the 

cabinet. How should I know how it got in?” 

For one moment I was really afraid for the cabinet. That 
is, I was afraid it would remain at our house. But it wasn’t 
long before Nachman returned with his two tall sons, both 
of them also carpenters, and they took hold of the cabinet as 
easily as the devil took hold of the melamed. First came 
Nachman, then the two sons, and behind them came I. The 
father directed them; “Kopel, this way. Mendel, to the right. 
Kopel, don’t rush. Mendel, wait ...” I imitated the gestures 
of all three, but my mother and brother refused to have any¬ 
thing to do with it. They stood looking at the empty wall, 
now covered with cobwebs and wept ... A regular circus. 
Always crying. Suddenly we heard a loud crash. Right in 
the doorway the glass had shattered. The carpenter and his 
sons began to roar at each other, and curse, each blaming the 
other for the broken glass. “Graceful as a lead bird! Bears 



Sliolom Aleichem 


254 


feet.” ‘‘The devil take you.” ‘‘Go break your head in hell. 

“What’s going on there?” a weak voice called from the 

sick-room. 

“Nothing,” my mother answered, wiping her eyes. 

But these experiences were as nothing compared with the 
idling of my brother’s couch and my cot. My brother’s couch 
was once the sofa we all sat on, but after Elihu became en¬ 
gaged he began to sleep on it, and I inherited his old cot. 
Long ago when times were good and my father was still well 
and conducted services in the butchers’ synagogue with his 
choir of four, the sofa still had springs. Now the springs be¬ 
longed to me. I did all sorts of tricks with them; cut my 
hands and almost poked my eyes out. One day I put them 
around my neck and nearly choked to death. Finally, my 
brother spanked me and threw the springs up into the attic. 

It was old Hannah who bought the couch and the cot from 
us. Before she paid her deposit my mother wouldn’t let her 
look under the covers. 

“You can buy what you see in front of you. There is noth¬ 
ing more to look at.” But after she had finished bargaining 
and had given my mother a deposit she went up to the couch 
and the cot, lifted up the bedclothes, looked slowly into every 
corner, and spat violently. My mother resented her spitting 
and was ready to return the money, but my brother Elihu in¬ 
terfered: 

“Once you’ve bought it, it’s final.” 

That night we put the bedclothes on the floor and my 
brother and I spread ourselves out like lords, covered our¬ 
selves with one blanket (his blanket had already been sold) 
and I was pleased to hear my brother say that sleeping on 
the floor wasn’t so bad. I waited till he had said his prayers 
and gone to sleep and then I began to roll around on the 
floor, over and over again. There was plenty of room, praise 
the Lord. It was like a field, a field in paradise . . . 

“What can we do now?” said my mother one morning, as 
she looked around with a deep frown at the four empty 


255 Yon Mustn’t Weep—It’s Yom-Tev 

walls. My brother and I followed her glance. Then looking at 
me with pity in his eyes my brother said sternly: 

“Go outside. Motel. We have something to talk about.” 

I ran out, skipping on one foot. Naturally I went straight 
to the neighbor’s calf. In the last few months Meni had 
grown into a handsome calf, with a lovely black muzzle, and 
brown eyes full of understanding. It was always looking 
for something to eat and liked to have its throat scratched. 

“Again. So you’re playing with that calf again? You can’t 

stay away from your dear friend?’’ 

It was my brother Elihu speaking, this time without anger, 
without curses. And taking my hand he led me to Hirsch- 
Ber the cantor. There, at Hirsch-Ber’s, he told me I would be 
well off. First of all I would have enough to eat. At home 
things were bad, he said. Our father was very ill: we had to 
do everything we could for him. And we were doing every¬ 
thing we could. And he unbuttoned his coat and showed me 
his vest underneath. 

“This is where I used to wear my watch,” he said. “A gift 
from my father-in-law and I sold it. If he ever found out—I 
don’t know what he’d do. The world would turn upside 
down. 

“Well, here we are,” my brother said, in a friendly tone. 
Hirsch-Ber the cantor was a good musician. That is, he 
couldn’t sing himself, he had no voice at all, poor fellow 
(so said my father) but he understood music. He had fifteen 
boys in his choir and he was a terribly mean master. That 
much I knew. He listened to me sing one or two pieces with 
all the frills and flourishes, then patted my head and told my 
brother that my soprano wasn’t bad. Not only wasn t it bad, 
my brother insisted, but it was excellent. Elihu bargained 
with him, took a payment, and told me I was going to stay 
here for a while. He told me to obey Hirsch-Ber and not to 
get homesick. 

It was easy for him to say, “Don’t get homesick.” But how 
could I keep from being homesick in the summer time when 
the sun shone, the sky was clear as crystal, and even the mud 



Sholom Aleichem 


had already dried up? In front of our house there was a pile 
of logs, not ours, but Yossi, the nogid's. He was planning to 
build a dwelling and since he had nowhere to keep the logs 
he kept them in front of our house. God bless Yossi, the 
rtogid, for that. Out of his logs I made myself a fortress. In 
this fortress I was happy, Meni the calf was happy, we ruled 
alone here. So how could I keep from being homesick? 

I have been at Hirsch-Ber’s for three weeks already and I 
have hardly done any singing at all. I have another job—I 
take care of his Dobtzie. Dobtzie is a deformed child, a 
hunchback. She is not quite two, but I have to hold her all 
the time and she is heavy. It’s all I can do to lift her. 
Dobtzie is fond of me. She puts her thin arms about me and 
clutches me with her thin fingers. She calls me Kiko—I do 
not know why. But she loves me. She won’t let me sleep at 
night. “Kiko ki.” That means that she wants me to rock 
her. Dobtzie adores me. When I am eating she tears the food 
out of my hands. “Kiko pi.” That means, “Give it to me.” 
How I long for home. The food is not so wonderful here, 
either. It’s a holiday —Shevuos eve. I wish I could go outside 
and see the heavens split open, as they do on Shevuos, but 
Dobtzie won’t let me. Dobtzie loves me too much to let 
me out of her sight. “Kiko ki.” She wants me to stay and 
rock her. I rock and I rock until I fall asleep. In my sleep a 
visitor comes to me—Meni, the neighbor’s calf. He looks at 
me with his big eyes, like a human being’s and says, “Come.” 
And we both run, downhill to the river. I roll up my pants. 
Hop! I am in the river. I swim and Meni swims after me. 
It’s lovely on the other side. There is no cantor, no Dobtzie, 
no sick father. I wake. It was all a dream. Oh, if I could only 
run away, run away. But how can I run away? Where could 
I run? Home, of course. 

Hirsch-Ber is up already. He tells me to dress quickly and 
go with him to the synagogue. There is a big morning ahead 
of us. There are some special pieces to sing today. When 


257 Yon Mustn’t Weep—It’s Yoni-Tev 

we get there I see my brother Elihu. What is he doing here? 
He usually goes to the butchers’ synagogue, where our father 
is cantor. What does this mean? My brother goes up and 
talks something over with Hirsch-Ber, who does not seem to 
be well-pleased. Finally he says, “But remember, bring him 
back right after dinner.” 

“Come along,” my brother says to me, “you’re going home 
to see Father.” And we start to go off together, Elihu walking 
sedately, and I skipping along. 

“What’s your hurry?” says my brother, holding me back. 
He apparently wants to talk to me. 

“You know Father is sick. He’s very, very sick. God knows 
what will become of him. We have to save him, but have 
nothing left and no one wants to help. Mother absolutely 
won’t let him go to the hospital. She will sooner die than let 
him go there. Here she comes. Be quiet.” 

With outstretched arms my mother comes to meet me. 
She falls on my neck and I feel a tear not my own fall on 
my cheek. My brother Elihu goes inside to my father, and 
my mother and I remain standing outside. A group of 
women gather about us—our neighbor’s wife, Fat Pessie, 
and her daughter Mindel and her daughter-in-law Pearl and 
several others. 

“Oh! A guest for Shevuos,” they say. “May you enjoy his 
company!” 

My mother lowers her tear-swollen eyes. “A guest?” she 
says. “The child has only come to see his sick father.” And 
then turning to Pessie she adds in a whisper, “A town full of 
people, but does anyone care? Twenty-three years in one 
synagogue; he ruined his health. I might still be able to save 
him, but I have nothing to do it with. We’ve sold everything, 
even the pillows. Sent the child out to a cantor. Everything 
for him. Everything to help him . . .” 

While my mother talks I keep turning my head this way 

and that. 

“What are you looking for?” my mother asks. 



258 


Sholom Aleichem 

“What do you suppose?” says Pessie. “He must be looking 
for the calf.” And she turns to me with a strangely pleasant 

tone in her voice. . 

“Ah, little one, the calf is gone. We had to sell it to the 

butcher. What else could we do? It’s enough to feed one 
animal without having two to worry about.” 

So the calf had become just a mouth to feed! 

A strange woman, Pessie. She sticks her nose into every¬ 
thing. She wants to know what we’re going to have for din¬ 
ner. 

“Why do you ask?” my mother wants to know. 

“Just like that,” says Pessie, carelessly, and lifting up her 
shawl pushes into my mother’s hands a bowl of thick cream. 
My mother shoves it back with both hands. 

“For heaven’s sake, Pessie, what are you doing? What do 
you think we are? Beggars? Don’t you know us better than 

“It’s because I do know you,” Pessie defends herself. “I’m 
not giving you anything, just lending it to you. Our cow has 
been good to us lately. We’ve had more than we can use. 
You’ll return it some day.” 

The women talk and I keep thinking of the pile of logs, 
and my playmate the calf whom I won’t see any more. If I 

weren’t ashamed I’d burst out crying. 

“If your father asks how you’re getting along,” my mother 

tells me, “say, ‘God be thanked.’ ” 

My brother explains this further: 

“Don’t complain about anything to him. Don’t tell him 
any of your childish stories. Just say, ‘God be thanked. Un¬ 
derstand?” And with these words my brother Elihu took me 
into the sick-room to see my father. The table was crowded 
with jars and bottles and boxes of pills. The air smelled like 
a druggist’s shop. The window was tightly closed. In honor 
of Shevuos the room had been decorated with greens. The 
floor was covered with sweet-smelling grass. My brother had 
done it all. 


259 You Mustn't Weep-It’s Yom-Tev 

When my father saw me come in he beckoned to me with 
a long, thin finger. My brother pushed me forward. I could 
hardly recognize my father. His face was like chalk. His gray 
hairs shone on his head, each hair singly as if pasted on. His 
dark eyes were sunken deep into his head. His teeth looked 
artificial. His neck was so thin that it could barely support 
his head. He made strange movements with his lips, like a 
tired swimmer trying to breathe. As I approached the bed he 
placed his hot, bony fingers on my face, and twisted 
his mouth into a wan smile that was like the smile of death. 

Just then my mother came into the room, followed by the 
jolly doctor with the big, black mustache. He greeted me 
like an old friend, poked me in the belly and said cheerfully 
to my father: 

“So you have a guest for Shevuos! May you enjoy his com¬ 
pany!” 

“Thank you,” said my mother and beckoned to the doc¬ 
tor to examine the patient and prescribe something for him. 
The doctor threw the window open and began to scold my 
brother for keeping it shut. “I’ve told you a thousand times 
that a window likes to be kept open.” 

My brother Elihu pointed at my mother. It was her fault. 
She wouldn’t let him open the window because she was 
afraid my father would catch cold. My mother motioned to 
the doctor to hurry and examine the patient, give him some¬ 
thing. The doctor calmly took out his big gold watch. I could 
see my brother staring at it. The doctor saw it, too. 

“Do you want to know what time it is? I have four min¬ 
utes to half past eleven. What do you have?” 

“My watch has stopped,” said my brother, turning red from 
the tip of his nose to the backs of his ears. 

My mother was becoming restless. She wanted the doctor 
to hurry up and give something for the patient. But the doc¬ 
tor was in no hurry. He asked my mother all sorts of trivial 
questions. When was my brother getting married? What did 
Hirsch-Ber think of my singing? I ought to have a good 



260 


Sholom Aleichem 

voice, because a voice is inherited. My mother answered him 
patiently. Suddenly the doctor turned his chair around and 
faced my father and took the dry, feverish hand in his. 

“Well, Cantor,” he said, “how were the Services this 

Shevuos?” 

“God be praised,” answered my father, with the smile of a 
ghost. 

“That’s good. And the coughing? Are you coughing less. 
Are you sleeping better?” asked the doctor, bending closer. 

“No,” said my father, barely catching his breath. “On the 
contrary, I cough as much as ever. I sleep very little. But 
God be praised. It’s Shevuos —a holy day. We received the 
Commandments this day. And we have a guest—a guest for 

Shevuos . . .” 

Everyone’s eyes were turned on the “guest,” and the guest 
looked down on the floor. His thoughts were elsewhere. They 
were outdoors with the logs where reeds and stickers grew, 
with the neighbor’s calf that had been like a dear human 
friend, and now had been sold to the butcher. They were 
down by the river that tumbled downhill—far from the sick 
room that smelled like a drugstore. 

The bowl of cream that our neighbor Pessie had lent to us 
was very useful. My brother and I made a feast out of it, 
both of us dipping chunks of fresh white bread into the 
chilled sour cream, and finding it very good. 

“The only trouble with it is that there isn’t enough . . .” 
said my brother. He was being unusually friendly that day. 
He didn’t even make me go back to Hirsch-Ber right away. 
He let me play at home a while instead. 

“After all, you're a guest here today,” he said, and told 
me I could go outside and play on the logs for a while. But 
he warned me not to climb too much and tear my best pair 
of pants. My best pair of pants! That was a good joke. You 
should have seen those pants. But let’s not talk about them 
. . . Let’s talk about Yossi the nogid’s logs instead. Yossi 
the nogid thought the logs belonged to him. That’s what he 



261 You Mustn’t Weep—It's Yom-Tev 

thought! Really they were my logs. I made a palace out of 
them and a vineyard. I was a prince. The prince walked 
proudly in his vineyard, tore up a reed and marched back and 
forth with it. Everyone envied me. Even the nogid's son, Hen- 
nich with the squinting eye, begrudged me my good fortune. 
He went by in his shiny new clothes, pointed at my pants and 
laughed and squinted his eye and shouted: 

“Watch out, you’ll be losing something.” 

“Better run along,” I said, “before I call my brother Elihu.” 

All the little boys were afraid of my brother Elihu. Hen- 
nich with his squinting eyes moved off and I was again 
alone, once more a prince in his vineyard. What a pity that 
Meni couldn’t be here with me. He had been sold to the 
butcher, said Pessie. Why? To be slaughtered? Was he born 
for this—to be slaughtered? For what end is a calf ever born, 
and for what end a human being? 

Suddenly I hear a terrible screaming and wailing from our 
house. I recognize my mother’s voice. I look up. People are 
running in and out of the house. I continue to lie stretched 
out on a log. I feel good. But what’s this? Here comes Yossi 
the nogid. Yossi is the president of the butchers’ synagogue 
where my father has been cantor for twenty-three years. 
Yossi was once a butcher himself, but he now deals in cattle 
and furs, and is a rich man, a very, very rich man. 

Yossi is waving his arms, shouting angrily at my mother: 

“Why wasn’t I told that Peisi the cantor was so sick? Why 
was everybody so quiet about it?” 

“Did you want me to shout?” says my mother, weeping. 
“The whole town saw how I struggled, how I tried to save 
him. And he wanted to be saved, too . . .” 

My mother was unable to say any more. She wrung her 
hands and threw her head back. My brother caught her in his 
arms. 

“Mother, why do you have to explain to him? Mother, 
don’t forget this is yom-tev —it’s Shevuos! You mustn’t 
weep! Mother!” 

But Yossi continues to shout. ‘The whole town? Who is 



Sholom Aleichem 


the town? You should have come to me! I’ll take care of 
everything. The funeral, the attendants, the shroud, every¬ 
thing! I’ll pay for it all. And if something has to be done for 
the children, come to me, too, don't be ashamed to come. 

But that comforted my mother not at all. She kept on 
weeping and wailing and fainting in my brother s arms. And 
my brother, who was almost in tears himself, kept remind¬ 
ing her, “Today is yom-tev, Mother! It’s Shevuos, you mustn’t 
cry, Mother.” 

And then at once it all became clear to me. My heart 
shrank. I felt lost. I wanted to burst out crying, and I didn’t 
know for whom. I was so sorry for my mother, I couldn’t 

bear to see her cry like that. 

And I left my palace and my vineyard and I came up to 
her from behind and cried in the same tone as my brother. 

“Mother! Today is yom-tev. It’s Shevuos, Mother! You 

mustn’t weep!" 



I’M LUCKY — I’M AIV 
ORPHAN 


Never before in my life have I been the privileged char¬ 
acter I am now. What is the reason for this? 

As you know, my father, Peisi the cantor, died the first 
day of Shevuos, and I was left an orphan. 

The first day after Shevuos my brother and I began to say 
kaddish, the prayer for the dead. It was my brother Elihu 
who taught me how to say it. My brother Elihu is a de¬ 
voted brother, but a poor teacher. He is quick tempered 
and he beats me. Taking the prayer book in his hand, that 
first day after Shevuos, he sat down with me and began to 
teach me the words: “Yisgadal v’yiskadash shtnei raho. He 
expected me to know it by heart right away. He repeated it 
with me one time after another from beginning to end and 
then told me to say it by myself. I tried, but it didn’t 

work. 

The first few lines weren’t bad, but after that I always got 
stuck. Every time this happened he prodded me with his el¬ 
bow, and said my mind must be elsewhere (how did he 
guess?), that I must be thinking about the calf (how could 
he know?). But he didn’t give up. He repeated it with me 
once more. I started out like a flash, but again, after a few 
lines, I got stuck. The words wouldn’t come. So he grabbed 
me by the ear and shouted, “If Father could only get up 



Sholora Aleichem 


264 


from his grave now and see what a stupid child he 
had . . . !” 

“Then I wouldn’t have to be saying kaddish for him!” I 
said, promptly. 

For this I caught a juicy slap on the cheek. Hearing the 
noise my mother cried out, “God be with you! What are 
you doing? Whom are you slapping? Have you forgotten 
that the child is an orphan?” 

I sleep with my mother now in the bed my father had 
slept in—the only piece of furniture left in the house. She 
lets me have most of the blanket. 

“Cover yourself,” she says to me, “and go to sleep, my 
poor little child. You might as well try to sleep; I have no 
food to give you.” 

I cover myself with the blanket, but I can’t fall asleep. I 
keep repeating the words of kaddish to myself. 

I don't go to cheder these days. I am not learning any¬ 
thing these days. I don’t even pray, I don’t sing in the choir. 

I’m lucky. I’m an orphan. 

Congratulate me. I know the whole kaddish by heart now 
-—every bit of it. In the synagogue I stand on a bench and 
rattle it off without a pause. I have a good singing voice— 
inherited from my father—a real soprano. All the boys stand 
around me and envy me. The women weep. Some of the 
men even give me a kopek. Yossi the nogid’s son, Hennich 
with the squinting eye (who is by nature very jealous), 
stands in front of me and sticks out his tongue. He is eager 
—he is anxious—he is dying—to make me laugh. But just 
to spite him I won’t laugh. One time Aaron the shammes 
caught him at it, and grabbing him by the ear, led him to 
the door. Served him right! 

Since I have to say kaddish in the morning and at night, 
I don’t stay with Hirsch-Ber any more, and I don’t have to 
carry Dobtzie around all the time. I am a free man. I spend 
A\ day at the river, either fishing or bathing. I have figured 



I’m Lucky-I’m an Orphan 


out for myself a good way to catch fish. If you like, I’ll teach 
it to you. You take off your shirt, tie your sleeves into knots, 
and walk slowly through the water up to your neck. You 
have to keep going a long, long time. When you feel the 
shirt growing heavy it’s a sign that it is full. Then you 
come out as quickly as you can, and shake out the weeds and 
mud, and look carefully inside. Tangled in the weeds you 
will sometimes find a few little tadpoles. These you can 
throw back; it’s a pity to let them die. In the thick mud you 
may find a leech. These are worth money: for ten you can 
get three groschen, a kopek and a half. But it isn’t easy 
work . . . For fish there is no use even looking. At one 
time there may have been fish in the river, but now there 
are none. I don’t care. I’d be glad enough just to find leeches, 
but you don’t even always find those. This summer I didn’t 
catch a single one. 

How my brother Elihu found out that I have been going 
fishing I don’t know. When he did find out he almost pulled 
my ear off. It was lucky that Fat Pessie, our neighbor, saw 
him do it. One’s own mother couldn’t take up for her child 
any better. 

“Is that the way to treat an orphan?’’ she cried. 

My brother Elihu is ashamed and lets go my ear. Every¬ 
body takes up for me these days. 

I’m lucky. I’m an orphan. 

Our neighbor. Fat Pessie, must have fallen in love with 
me. She goes after my mother and won’t stop bothering her. 
She wants me to go and live at her house. 

“Why should it bother you?” she asks. “I have twelve at 
the table already, so he’ll be one more.” She almost got my 
mother to consent that time, but my brother Elihu spoke up. 

“Who will keep an eye on him and see that he goes to say 
kaddish?" 

“I’ll see that he goes,” said Pessie. “There, does that satisfy 
you?” 

Pessie is not a rich woman. Her husband is a bookbinder; 



266 


Sholom Aleichem 

his name is Moishe. He is known as a very skilled workman, 
but being skilled is not enough. You need luck besides. That 
is what Pessie tells my mother. My mother goes her one bet¬ 
ter. She says that even to be unlucky, to be a shhmazl, you 
have to have luck. As an example she points at me. Here I 
am, an orphan—and everybody wants me! There are some 
people who are willing to keep me for good, but my mother 
says that as long as she is alive she won’t give me up. And 
she bursts out crying. Later she asks my brother’s advice.^ ^ 

“What do you think? Should we let him stay at Pessie s? 

My brother is almost a grown man now. If he weren t, 
would my mother be asking his advice? With his hand he 
strokes his chin, as though he had a beard already. He likes 
to talk like a grown man. 

“Let him go. So long as he doesn’t become a sheigetz. 

And it is agreed that I should live at Pessie’s for the time 
being, provided that I don’t become a sheigetz. What do 
they call being a sheigetz ? To tie a piece of paper to the 
cat's tail so she’ll chase it around and around—that is being 
a sheigetz. Rattling a stick along the fence around the 
priest’s house and making a lot of noise—that is being a 
sheigetz. Pulling the cork out of the water carrier’s tank so 
that half the water runs out—that is being a sheigetz. 

“It's your luck that you’re an orphan!” cries Leibke the 
water carrier. “If you weren’t, I’d break every bone in your 
body! You can believe me, too!” 

I believe him all right, but I also know that he won’t 

touch me. For I am an orphan. 

I’m lucky. I’m an orphan. 

Our neighbor Pessie told a big lie. She said she feeds 
twelve at her table, but according to my reckoning I am the 
fourteenth. She must have forgotten their blind Uncle 
Boruch. Maybe she didn’t count him because he is so old 
and has no teeth to chew with. I won’t argue about that. It 
is true that he can’t chew, but he still knows how to swallow. 
He swallows like a goose, and grabs all the food he can 



267 I’m Lucky-I’m an Orphan 

reach. Everybody grabs there. I grab too, and for that they 
jump on me. Under the table each one kicks me. The one 
who kicks the hardest is Vashti. Vashti is a terror. His name 
is really Hershel, but they call him Vashti. Everyone in this 
house has a nickname. 

You can be sure that there is a reason for each name. 
Pinny is called “Barrel” because he is round and fat. Haym 
is rough and shaggy so they call him “Buffalo.” Mendel has 
a pointed nose so they call him “Sharpnose.” Feitel is called 
“Petelili” because he stammers. Berel is never satisfied with 
one slice of bread smeared with chickenfat; he always says, 
“Give me more!” In short, everyone in this house has a nick¬ 
name. Even the cat—poor innocent creature. What harm did 
she ever do anyone? And yet she has a nickname too. They 
call her “Feiga-Leah the shammeste .” Do you want to know 
why? Because she is fat and Feiga-Leah, the wife of the 
shammes, is also fat. You can’t imagine how many times 
every one of them has been beaten for calling the cat by a 
human name. But beatings have no effect. Once they have 
given someone a nickname, the name sticks. 

I have a nickname too. Guess what it is . . . “Motel with 
the Lips.” They don’t like my lips. They say that when I eat 
I always smack my lips. I would like to see a person who can 
eat without smacking his lips! I am not one of those proud 
people whose feelings are easily hurt, but this nickname I 
simply can’t stand. And just because I can’t stand it they keep 
on teasing me and calling me by it all the time. Nothing 
can make them stop. First I was “Motel with the Lips,” then 
‘The Lips,” and finally just “Lippy.” 

“Lippy, where have you been?” 

“Lippy, wipe your nose.” 

It annoys me and then it hurts me so that I start crying. 
Seeing me, their father, Pessie’s husband, Moishe the book' 
binder, asks, “Why are you crying?” 

I answer, “Why shouldn’t I cry? My name is Motel and 
they call me Lippy.” 

He asks who called me that, and I say Vashti. 



Sfaolom Aleichem 

He was going to beat Vashti and Vashti said it wasn t he, 

it was Barrel. And Barrel said it was Buffalo. 

And so it went. One blamed another and the other blamed 
a third. It was like a circle without an end. At last their 
father made up his mind. He laid them down one by one 
and gave each one a good whipping with the cover of a 
prayerbook. 

“You rascals!” he cried. “I’ll show you how to make fun of 
an orphan! The devil take every one of you!” 

And so it goes. Everybody comes to my defense. Every¬ 
body takes up for me. 

I’m lucky. I’m an orphan. 



DREYFUS IN 
KASRILEVKA 


I doubt if the Dreyfus case made such a stir anywhere as it 
did in Kasrilevka. 

Paris, they say, seethed like a boiling vat. The papers 
carried streamers, generals shot themselves, and small boys 
ran like mad in the streets, threw their caps in the air, and 
shouted wildly, “Long live Dreyfus!” or “Long live Ester- 
hazy!” Meanwhile the Jews were insulted and beaten, as al¬ 
ways. But the anguish and pain that Kasrilevka underwent, 
Paris will not experience till Judgment Day. 

How did Kasrilevka get wind of the Dreyfus case? Well, 
how did it find out about the war between the English and 
the Boers, or what went on in China? What do they have to 
do with China? Tea they got from Wisotzky in Moscow. In 
Kasrilevka they do not wear the light summer material that 
comes from China and is called pongee. That is not for their 
purses. They are lucky if they have a pair of trousers and an 
undershirt, and they sweat just as well, especially if the sum¬ 
mer is a hot one. 

So how did Kasrilevka learn about the Dreyfus case? From 
Zeidel. 

Zeidel, Reb Shaye’s son, was the only person in town who 
subscribed to a newspaper, and all the news of the world 
they learned from him, or rather through him. He read and 



Sholom Aleichem 


270 


they interpreted. He spoke and they supplied the commen¬ 
tary. He told what he read in the paper, but they turned 
it around to suit themselves, because they understood better 
than he did. 

One day Zeidel came to the synagogue and told how in 
Paris a certain Jewish captain named Dreyfus had been im¬ 
prisoned for turning over certain government papers to the 
enemy. This went into one ear and out of the other. Some¬ 
one remarked in passing, “What won’t a Jew do to make a 
living?” 

And another added spitefully, “A Jew has no business 
climbing so high, interfering with kings and their affairs.” 

Later when Zeidel came to them and told them a fresh 
tale, that the whole thing was a plot, that the Jewish Captain 
Dreyfus was innocent and that it was an intrigue of cer¬ 
tain officers who were themselves involved, then the town 
became interested in the case. At once Dreyfus became a 
Kasrilevkite. When two people came together, he was the 
third. 

“Have you heard?” 

“I’ve heard.” 

“Sent away for good.” 

“A life sentence.” 

“For nothing at all.” 

“A false accusation.” 

Later when Zeidel came to them and told them that there 
was a possibility that the case might be tried again, 
that there were some good people who undertook to show 
the world that the whole thing had been a plot, Kasrilevka 
began to rock indeed. First of all, Dreyfus was one of ours. 
Secondly, how could such an ugly thing happen in Paris? 
It didn’t do any credit to the French. Arguments broke 
out everywhere; bets were made. Some said the case would 
be tried again, others said it would not. Once the decision 
had been made, it was final. All was lost. 

As the case went on, they got tired of waiting for Zeidel 



271 


Dreyfus in Kasrilevka 


to appear in the synagogue with the news; they began to go 
to his house. Then they could not wait that long, and they 
began to go along with him to the postoffice for his paper. 
There they read, digested the news, discussed, shouted, ges¬ 
ticulated, all together and in their loudest voices. More than 
once the postmaster had to let them know in gentle terms 
that the postoffice was not the synagogue. “This is not your 
synagogue, you Jews. This is not katial sherrnaki .” 

They heard him the way Haman hears the grager on 
Purim. He shouted, and they continued to read the paper 
and discuss Dreyfus. 

They talked not only of Dreyfus. New people were al¬ 
ways coming into the case. First Esterhazy, then Picquart, 
then General Mercies, Pellieux Gonse . . . 

There were two people whom Kasrilevka came to love 
and revere. These were Emile Zola and Labori. For Zola 
each one would gladly have died. If Zola had come to 
Kasrilevka the whole town would have come out to greet 
him, they would have borne him aloft on their shoulders. 

“What do you think of his letters?” 

“Pearls. Diamonds. Rubies.” 

They also thought highly of Labori. The crowd delighted 
in him, praised him to the skies, and, as we say, licked their 
fingers over his speeches. Although no one in Kasrilevka had 
ever head him, they were sure he must know how to make a 
fine speech. 

I doubt if Dreyfus’ relatives in Paris awaited his return 
from the Island as anxiously as the Jews of Kasrilevka. They 
traveled with him over the sea, felt themselves rocking on 
the waves. A gale arose and tossed the ship up and down, 
up and down, like a stick of wood. “Lord of Eternity, 
they prayed in their hearts, “be merciful and bring him 
safely to the place of the trial. Open the eyes of the judges, 
clear their brains, so they may find the guilty one and the 
while world may know of our innocence. Amen. Selah .” 

The day when the good news came that Dreyfus had ar- 



Sholom Aleichem 

rived was celebrated like a holiday in Kasrilevka. If they had 
not been ashamed to do so, they would have closed their 

shops. 

“Have you heard?” 

“Thank the Lord.” 

“Ah, I would have liked to have been there when he met 
his wife.” 

“And I would have liked to see the children when they 
were told, ‘Your father has arrived.’ ” 

And the women, when they heard the news, hid their faces 
in their aprons and pretended to blow their noses so no one 
could see they were crying. Poor as Kasrilevka was, there 
was not a person there who would not have given his very 
last penny to take one look at the arrival. 

As the trial began, a great excitement took hold of the 
town. They tore not only the paper to pieces, but Zeidel 
himself. They choked on their food, they did not sleep 
nights. They waited for the next day, the next and the next. 

Suddenly there arose a hubbub, a tumult. That was when 
the lawyer, Labori, was shot. All Kasrilevka was beside itself. 

“Why? For what? Such an outrage! Without cause! 
Worse than in Sodom!” 

That shot was fired at their heads. The bullet was lodged 
in their breasts, just as if the assassin had shot at Kasrilevka 
itself. 

“God in Heaven,” they prayed, “reveal thy wonders. Thou 
knowest how if thou wishest. Perform a miracle, that Labori 
might live.” 

And God performed the miracle. Labori lived. 

When the last day of the trial came, the Kasrilevkites 
shook as with a fever. They wished they could fall asleep 
for twenty-four hours and not wake up till Dreyfus was de¬ 
clared a free man. 

But as if in spite, not a single one of them slept a wink 
that night. They rolled all night from side to side, waged war 
with the bedbugs, and waited for day to come. 

At the first sign of dawn they rushed to the postoffice. The 



273 


Dreyfus in Kasrilevka 

outer gates were still closed. Little by little a crowd gathered 
outside and the street was filled with people. Men walked 
up and down, yawning, stretching, pulling their earlocks 

and praying under their breath. 

When Yadama the janitor opened the gates they poured 
in after him. Yadama grew furious. He would show them 
who was master here, and pushed and shoved till they were 
all out in the street again. There they waited for Zeidel to 
come. And at last he came. 

When Zeidel opened the paper and read the news aloud, 
there arose such an outcry, such a clamor, such a roar that 
the heavens could have split open. Their outcry was not 
against the judges who gave the wrong verdict, not at the 
generals who swore falsely, not at the French who showed 
themselves up so badly. The outcry was against Zeidel. 

“It cannot be!” Kasrilevka shouted with one voice. “Such 
a verdict is impossible! Heaven and earth swore that the 
truth must prevail. What kind of lies are you telling us?” 

“Fools!” shouted Zeidel, and thrust the paper into their 
faces. “Look! See what the paper says!” 

“Paper! Paper!” shouted Kasrilevka. “And if you stood 
with one foot in heaven and the other on earth, would we 
believe you?” 

“Such a thing must not be. It must never be! Never! 
Never!” 

And—who was right? 



THE CONVOY 


1 HAINAN IVANOVITCH PLISETSKY 

That was what they called the new Government Inspector 
who had recently come to Teplik. To be accurate, his real 
name was Agamemnon Afonagenovitch, but the Jews of Tep- 
iik, who love to tamper with names, changed his for two rea¬ 
sons: first, because Haman Ivanovitch was shorter and easier 
to say. Just try, for instance, to roll your tongue around in 
your mouth and say, A-ga-mem-non A-fo-na-ge-no-vitch! That 
is the first reason. And the second is that since Teplik was 
founded, no one remembers ever having heard of an Inspector 
so much like the Haman of Scriptures as this Haman Ivano¬ 
vitch Plisetsky of whom we speak. 

In Teplik they have had all kinds of Inspectors—good 
ones, bad ones, those who take bribes eagerly and those 
who would not touch a kopek —except possibly as a New 
Year gift, which doesn’t count, or a birthday present, which 
you could hardly refuse. All of us have birthdays, and 
everywhere a birthday is celebrated as a holiday. It has been 
that way since the dawn of history, since Pharaoh was king 
of Egypt, as we read in Genesis. Pharaoh, when his birthday 
came, ordered a feast for all his slaves, set his cupbearer free 
from prison, and hanged his baker on a tree, as Joseph had 
foretold in interpreting the dreams three days before. 

But let us go back to this other tyrant, this Haman we 



275 


The Convoy 


have been talking about. When he arrived in Teplik, the first 
thing he did was to start cleaning up the town. And when 
I say cleaning, I mean just that. The horse thieves of Tep¬ 
lik, renowned throughout the world, were smoked out in a 
month or two. Even if you needed one for an exhibit you 
couldn’t find one. If there was any person he had any reason to 
suspect, he did not wait or hesitate, but packed him off by 
convoy to the prison at Heissin. Let them reckon with him 
there. 

After the thieves and petty pilferers, he turned his at¬ 
tention to the streets of the town and to the Jews. He issued 
the order that from that day on, the streets must all be kept 
clean. No one must empty rubbish into the streets, pour slops 
out of the front door, or do anything else unseemly. And the 
Jews, he declared, must not open their shops before noon on 
Sunday, teachers must not hold classes without a special 
permit, and to make it complete, he forbade the eirev, the 
zone of exemption. As you recall, on the Sabbath we must 
not carry anything on our persons, not even a handkerchief. 
In our own house we could, and in our yard also, but in the 
city at large not a thing. So every Friday afternoon we used 
to make a fence around the entire Jewish settlement. A 
fence? You could call it that, though it consisted of no 
more than a strong piece of cord that ran from tree to tree 
around the entire village. This we called an eirev, and it 
made all the village one’s own yard, and people could carry 
whatever they needed without fear of committing a sin. 

But now Haman said that the eirev had to go. The Jews 
could get along without their telegraph, without these wires 
strung all around the town. Even in the synagogue itself, 
when some of the men had a fight over this or that honor and 
slapped each other in the face, he liked to interfere. That’s 
the kind of tyrant he was! 

Well, he had his way. The stores were closed Sunday till 
noon. And if not right on the dot—if some of them opened 
a minute or two earlier—he pretended not to notice. For 
what choice did he have? He did as much as he could. But 



276 


Sholom Aleichem 

to be a watchman at every Jewish shop, to catch anyone who 
opened the door just an inch—that was not humanly pos¬ 
sible. 

But the eirev, the zone of exemption, gave him trouble at 
first. Every Friday afternoon the cord was strung up all 
around the town, and Saturday morning he had it torn 
down. But the next week a new eirev appeared, and the week 
after that another one. This happened several weeks in suc¬ 
cession. No matter how much his spies watched, they could 
not find the culprit, until he condescended to go himself, 
hide behind a hedge and spend the whole night watching. 
Finally toward daybreak he caught Peisi, the shammes' son, 
in the very act of stretching the cord. Without ceremony he 
grabbed Peisi by the left ear and dragged him off to jail and 
locked him up for the whole day. From that day on Teplik 
had to get along without an eirev. And still people carried 
their handkerchiefs and watches around on the Sabbath— 
with no apparent consequences. 

Not so simple was the war he waged against the teachers. 
They made life wretched for him. Here he arrested a teacher 
with twenty pupils and closed his cheder, and there he dis¬ 
covered him with the same pupils in another street. He 
closed up this cheder too, swore out a warrant; looked 
around—and there was the same man, high up in the women’s 
balcony of the synagogue with the same twenty pupils shout¬ 
ing at the tops of their voices. A curse on these Jewish chil¬ 
dren, you couldn’t drive them away from their studies! “For 
heaven’s sake, if you have to go up there with those pupils 
of yours, stay there and be damned! But don’t make so much 
noise! Don’t force me to listen to you!” 

That is how Plisetsky appealed to the teacher, and he swore 
that if he ever caught him again he would banish him from 
Teplik within twenty-four hours. The teacher heard him out 
with the greatest respect and discontinued his classes in the 
women’s balcony. But the next day he started again in a 
cellar not far away, and went on teaching with the very same 
ear-splitting chant as before—that familiar, deafening chant 



277 


The Convoy 


without which the study of Hebrew apparently has no more 
flavor than the cold puddings that wealthy people in the 
big cities eat these days. 

Haman lvanovitch battled with these teachers so long, till 
with a final curse he shut his eyes and pretended not to 
know that they were there. 


2 THE 1 % O G M D OF TEPLIK, SIIOLOM- 
BER TEPLIKER OF TEPLIK 

Since most of the inhabitants of Teplik were Jews, the new 
Inspector had to spend the greater part of his time dealing 
with Jews, and in a short time he became acquainted with 
most of them, knew them by name, learned all their secrets, 
spoke to them in a half-Yiddish, half-Russian language of 
his own, and became quite intimate with many of them—al¬ 
most like one of the family. 

The richer townspeople, the leading citizens—the soup 
ladles, as we call them, because they are always stirring the 
community pot—in their turn, when they saw how friendly 
he was, began to win their way into his good favor—first, 
with a piece of Sabbath fish (“Jew fish,” he called it), a 
glass of Passover brandy (“Jew brandy”), and a few pieces 
of matzo (“Jew matzo"). And afterward, with a fawning 
smile, they moved on to the next stage—of slipping some¬ 
thing into his hand. But his response to this gesture was so 
unexpected and sharp that they learned something that they 
remembered forever after, and they passed it on to their 
children and grandchildren: “Never bribe a man—until 
you know who he is and what he is.” 

“If you’re trying to bribe me,” cried Haman, “it must 
mean that you’ve committed some crime. Here, take him and 
put him away!” 

The words, “Take him and put him away!” were always 
at the tip of his tongue. They meant several different things: 
to throw a person in jail for a day or two; to put him away 



Sholom Aleichem 


278 


for several weeks; or even to send him off to Heissin, where 
the prison was, by convoy. And once he had given this order, 
nothing more could be done about it. Not all the kings of 
east or west could help. That's the kind of a man he was! 
And yet so inconsistent was he that if some penniless wretch 
fell into his hands, this tyrant reached into his own pocket 
and gave the fellow a ruble or two, and said to him in his 
mixture of Russian and Yiddish: 

“Here is a loan to help you on your way.” 

But considerate as he was of poor people, so intolerant 
was he of the rich. And especially if the rich man was from 
Teplik. And most especially the nogid of Teplik, Sholom- 
Ber Tepliker of Teplik. Him he could not tolerate at all, 
and for a long, long time he tried to catch the man at some 
misdemeanor, without success, till God came to his aid and 
he had him in his hands. This is how it happened. 

This Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik, in addition to being 
a man of wealth, was as stubborn and proud a creature as you 
would ever find. If he ever decided to do something, nothing 
could stop him. It would be easier to pick up all of Teplik 
and move it somewhere else than to make him change his 
mind. Thus when Haman Ivanovitch decreed that no one 
was to throw' rubbish or slops out into the street, Sholom- 
Ber Tepliker of Teplik asked this question, “Whose business 
is that? It's my rubbish and my slops, and I can do with it as 
I wish!” 

“But, Reb Sholom-Ber,” people tried to tell him, “if this 
Haman ever catches you, there’ll be trouble!” 

“Don’t worry,” said Sholom-Ber. He was a man who did 
not like to waste his words. 

“But, Reb Sholom-Ber, he’ll serve a warrant.” 

Let him serve seventy-seven warrants!” 

But, Reb Sholom-Ber, what if someone should slip in 
front of your house and break a leg?” 

“Let that Haman break a leg!” cried Sholom-Ber, and 
ordered his servant girl to throw as much rubbish in front of 
the house as she wanted to. 


<« 


(4 



279 


The Convoy 


So Plisetsky came to him with the police and served pa¬ 
pers on him, and Sholom-Ber protested vociferously, and 
told them all what he thought of them, as only a nogid can. 
Plisetsky told him to shut his mouth, and in the course of 
giving this advice threw in a few words like, “the nerve of 
the Jew,” and "dirty Jewish mouth,” and a few other pleas¬ 
ant remarks of the same general type. At this Sholom-Ber 
became angry and let it be known before all those present 
that the Inspector was a second Haman, in fact he was 
Haman himself, the very same one they told about in the 
Bible. All this was added as an extra clause to the complaint, 
and between one thing and another, the leading citizen of 
Teplik, Sholom-Ber himself, was sentenced to two weeks in 
the district jail. And all the prayers and all the vows and 
all the pledges to the Almighty could not help him! 

It is to be understood that all of Teplik rocked at the 
news. Imagine it! Two weeks behind bars for Teplik’s 
Sholom-Ber! And the whole town came to see him being led 
off to jail. They say that not even a babe was left in its cra¬ 
dle. Everybody who could see was there to watch him. And 
as they led him through the marketplace to the town jail, 
Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik lowered his eyes for the first 
time in his life. And his wife, Stissi-Pearl, for very shame, 
hid herself in her house. And everybody else in town stood 
along the road watching the spectacle and saying nothing, 
although deep in their hearts many of them were glad. 

In the first place, he had it coming. Just because he was 
rich was no reason for a man to be so insolent. And in the 
second place he was disliked by everyone because in spite of 
his haughty manner he was a low and petty creature and his 
wife, Stissi-Pearl, begrudged a person a dry crust of bread, 
though, as everybody in Teplik knew well enough, their very 
gizzards were stuffed with gold and they had no one to spend 
it on—not even a child. 

“If I had their money,” every Tepliker was in the habit of 
saying, “if I only had half as much, or a third as much, the 
town would get more pleasure out of it than it does 



280 


Sholom Aleicbem 

now . . And that might very well have been so, but since 
in all of Tepik there was no one else who had any money 
at all, there was no one who got any pleasure out of it— 
neither the town itself, nor Sholom-Ber, nor his wife Stissi- 
Pearl. Though it may be that the latter two did get some 
joy out of it. It all depends what you call joy. If you meas¬ 
ured it by the position one held in the community, then 
ShoJom-Ber had it. Wherever he was, whether in the syna¬ 
gogue or at a public gathering or a celebration, he had the 
place of honor. It was always the others who came up to 
him to wish him a good Sabbath, a good morning, or greet 
him at the holidays. When Sholom-Ber spoke, the others 
listened in silence, and whatever he said was a thing of 
wisdom. And more than that—every year, at Simchas-Torah, 
it was at his home that the whole town gathered. Sholom- 
Ber sat like a king and asked everyone who came to take 
some brandy, and Stissi-Pearl his wife watched every glass. 
There were other occasions also during the year, which, if 
you were a Tepliker, would have some meaning, but if you 
were not, would have none at all. And besides all this, there 
was the simple fact that Sholom-Ber was convinced that he 
was the only one who was anything at all. Only he, and no 
one else. 

In Teplik there was only one Sholom-Ber Tepliker. In 
Teplik there was only one like that. There was no other . . . 


3 A CHEERFUL PAUPER 

In Teplik, if there had been no meddlers and informers, that 
is, if there had been no people who paid attention to what 
everybody else was doing, ninety-nine out of every hundred 
transgressions would have gone unpunished, and Teplik 
would have had as many sinners as Sodom itself. But since 
the people of Teplik have a way of keeping very well in¬ 
formed of the activities of their neighbors, every time they 
see anything that looks wrong, or hear anything, or smell 



281 


The Convoy 


anything, or even imagine anything that might not be just 
right, they make a note of it and see to it that the informa¬ 
tion reaches the proper authorities in the proper manner. 
And Plisetsky could boast that he did not ever have to hire 
any spies. The householders of Teplik were competent 

enough spies themselves. 

After an introduction like this, you will not be surprised 
to hear that one bright morning the police surrounded the 
hut of Berel the Redhead with the crooked leg, just as he 
was sitting on the ground, the skirts of his gabardine rolled 
up around his waist, pouring from a large jug into small 
bottles the raisin wine that he sold to his neighbors for 
sacramental purposes. With great absorption he pressed each 
cork in and pounded it down. Plisetsky opened the door 
quietly, observed the red-haired Berel at his work, remaining 
standing a few minutes on the threshold, and beckoned to 
his assistants. When Berel raised his eyes and saw Haman 
Ivanovitch standing over him, he got up from the ground, 
came up to the Inspector with his strange limp, and looked 
him right in the eye as though to say, “Are you going to 
punish me for this? Go ahead, punish me! What can you 
take away from me? The hole in my pocket? 

How did it happen that Berel was so bold? Because he 
had nothing to be afraid of. True, he had made wine out of 
raisins, poured it into small bottles and sold it to his ac¬ 
quaintances for the Sabbath, and in that way earned his live¬ 
lihood. But what a wine it was, and what a livelihood! The 
wine was no wine; the livelihood no livelihood. And yet 
both served their purpose. Every Friday night a benediction 
had to be made over wine, so this was wine. And it kept 
him occupied, gave him something to live on not much, 
but enough, as he said, for a thin gruel to dip his hard 
crust into. And that was better than nothing. Think of how 
many people there are in Teplik who have no work at all 
and earn nothing at all and have nothing at all! Really noth¬ 
ing! Absolutely nothing at all! 

And it was these very men, who did nothing and earned 



Sholom Aleichem <;o 

nothing and had nothing, who were most envious of Berel 
the Redhead, who had the reputation among them of living 
like a mogul. Was there not a rumor current that he had 
fish and meat every Sabbath, and certainly white bread? And 
did he not send his children to cheder? And didn't he clothe 
them, and have a goat of his own? And all from these raisins 
that he shook up and made into wine! So they sat down 
and wrote a letter to Plisetsky with all the necessary informa* 
tion. And this is how it read: 

“Whereas we have always been concerned with the public 
welfare, and whereas the public welfare is threatened by all 
illegal transactions, and whereas Berel the Redhead, here¬ 
after referred to by his legal name of Berko Krivak, has for 
so many years dealt in wine without a permit, and whereas 
the aforementioned Berko Krivak manufactures this wine 
with his own hands, also without a permit, therefore . . .” 
And so on and so on and so on . . . 

The pride of a pauper is nothing to sneer at. The poorer 
a man is, the prouder he is—prouder than some of the rich¬ 
est people in the world. 1 once knew a pauper who met 
another on the street. 

“How can you compare yourself to me, you idiot!” said the 
first. “You still have a pair of boots and a torn old over¬ 
coat, and 1 don't have these things even in my dreams!” 

This was said in such a tone of boastfulness that if Roth¬ 
schild himself had been standing there, he would have lost 
confidence in himself. 

In the meantime, returning to our story, Haman Ivanovitch 
stood contemplating Berel’s apartments, which consisted of 
three rooms, or to be more accurate, of two small alcoves 
and a kitchen, and each of these rooms was filled with beds 
and the beds were full of children. The children were half- 
dressed and half-naked, that is, they were dressed from the 
neck to the navel, and from there down they were naked. 
To this half-naked audience the Inspector was a rare sight, 
the like of which they had never seen. Without hesitation 
the children jumped out of bed, quietly stole up to the 



283 


The Convoy 


dazzling figure and stared up at him, examined his gold 
buttons and felt the scabbard at his side. And while they 
drank in all the details of his attire, this conversation took 
place above their heads: 

Plisetsky: According to what they wrote about you, you 

must be making a lot of money. 

Berel: It could have been a little worse. It could have 

been a lot better. 

Plisetsky: Then why are your children naked and bare¬ 
foot? 

Berel: They grow better that way. 

Plisetsky: And what do you do with your money? 

Berel: I do as the Talmud advises us. 

Plisetsky: The Talmud? And what does that say? 

Berel: It tells us to divide our money three ways. One 
third is to be put away; one third is to be kept in cash, and 

the rest in merchandise. 

Plisetsky: I see you’re in good spirits. 

Berel: What do I have to worry about? What do I need 
and what do I have? But tell me, my Lord and Master, what 
is it that my good neighbors said about me, and what is it 
that I can expect as a result of this visit of yours? 

Plisetsky: If you want to know so much you'll be old and 
gray in a hurry. But first show me all your chests and draw¬ 
ers. I have to search your home. Maybe in addition to the 

wine I’ll find other good things too. 

Berel: With the greatest pleasure. Only this: if you dis¬ 
cover any gold or silver or government bonds, let’s divide it, 

half for me and half for you. 

Plisetsky: You’re a little too cheerful—like some people 

before their death. 

Berel: It may be so. No one knows what tomorrow will 
bring. As the Talmud says, “Repent for your sins a day be¬ 
fore'you die.’’ And as we never know when the Angel of 

Death might grab us by the neck, so . . . 

At this point Plisetsky interrupted him, called in the police 
and told them to take him to jail. When he heard the word 



Sholom Aleichem 

“jail ” Berel felt a chill pass through him, and a wailing 
arose among the children as if a corpse were being carried 

out. 

Naturally in Teplik it did not take long for the news to 
get around, and from all sides people came crowding to see 
another Jew being led off to prison—no one knew why. That 
is, why he was being led was no secret. How could a thing 
like that be kept a secret in Teplik? Especially when they 
saw Haman Ivanovitch carrying a small bottle of wine, the 
kind they knew Berel made without a license. The only 
thing they did not know was what would come of it. A fine 

_or prison? They tried to figure out which. And yet they 

had much more sympathy for this pauper than for Sholom- 
Ber the nogid . But they could do nothing to help him, ex¬ 
cept sigh as he walked past. 


4 ANOTHER TRANSGRESSOR 

That same day Haman Ivanovitch went after the Jews of 
Teplik in one more way. He arrested another Jew, one who, 
quite obviously, had not committed any crime. This is how 
it happened: 

There was a young man in town, a boy you might call 
him, named Hennich. This Hennich had an older brother, 
David-Leib, who was to be called up for military service that 
year, and David-Leib claimed exemption because Hennich 
was not yet eighteen years old and thus was technically de¬ 
pendent on him. That was as the law provided. The papers 
were all made out and filed with the authorities in Heissin. 
But filing papers was not enough. They also had to produce 
the brother in person so that the authorities could see for 
themselves how old he was. The order came to Plisetsky, 
and when Plisetsky was ordered to produce, he produced. He 
sent the constable and had Hennich brought to him at the 
station. 

Hennich. you could see at a glance, was not a very gifted 



285 


The Convoy 


youth. His complexion was pasty, almost lifeless; he had a 
cataract in one eye, and his head shook with some nervous 
disorder. In addition to this, his fright at being picked up by 
the constable was such that it gave a touch of madness to 
his appearance, and the impression he made on the Inspector 
was not a very good one. 

“Are you Hennich Tellerlecker?” Plisetsky asked, grabbing 
hold of him and looking him over from head to foot. 

“I am Hennich Tellerlecker,” answered the boy, and then 
realizing that he was there on account of his brother, he 
blurted out, “And I'm not eighteen yet! I swear I’m not!” 

“So I see,” said Plisetsky. “Only seventeen and a half—not 
counting Sundays and Holidays.” And he looked at Hennich 
so fiercely that the poor lad went hot and cold all over, his 
heart sank, and he said to himself, "It’s all up. David-Leib is 
gone from us . . .” But he still wanted to do something for 
his brother, and suddenly he became bold and cried out, “I 
swear that I am not more than seventeen and a month. Not 
a day more. If I am lying I hope I may never come home 
again. Maybe I look older, but I am not! We are all like 
that in our family. By fifteen our beards start growing . . .” 

Plisetsky looked at him, shook his head and smiled, as 
though to say, "That’s all you need besides the cataract and 
that complexion of yours—a handsome beard.” And then he 
told his deputy to put him away until he could examine the 
papers more carefully. And Hennich was put away. 

So a third citizen of Teplik took up his residence that day 
in the town jail. 

He was greeted at once by Berel. “Look who’s here! And 
what was it you did now, my little bird, and who was it that 
told them you had done it?” 

Sholom-Ber was more reserved. From his corner he looked 
the lad over coldly, as if he were a thief who had just been 
caught stealing. And Hennich looked back like a half-wit, 
with his mouth open, at the sight of the town’s nogid in the 
same cell with him, and he began to babble, without know¬ 
ing what he was saying. 



286 


Sholom Aleichem 

“I don’t know what I did. I don’t know anything. It’s on 
account of David-Leib. If I’m more than eighteen . . 

Berel interrupted him. “What are you flapping your mouth 

for? Say something! Make sense!” 

“I am telling you about my brother . . And suddenly he 
turned upon Berel with these words: “Tell me! How do I 
look to you?” 

“How do you look? You look like a wild man!” Berel 
answered with a laugh and looked at Sholom-Ber to see if 
he was laughing too. But the nogid was not laughing at all. 
He was looking at the wretched Hennich shaking in his rags 
and tatters, wondering why things like that had to go on 
living in this world. 

“No,” said Hennich, looking at the rich man with his 
good eye and at Berel with the other. “That isn t what I 
meant. What I mean is, how old do I look?” 

“Oh, how old? Well, I’d say about twenty-two or so—or a 

trifle more ...” 

In his great sorrow and anger Hennich let out a shriek 
and turned on Berel: 

“Are you crazy? What are you talking about? David-Leib 
was just twenty and he is almost three years older than me. 
So what are you talking about?” 

And he looked so mournful and woebegone that Sholom- 
Ber himself became interested and asked him: 

“There are two of you then—two brothers—is that it?” 

“Two brothers and our old mother. And a sister of thirteen 
who is out doing housework. And a younger brother ap¬ 
prenticed to a shopkeeper. And two smaller girls and a little 
boy in Talmud Torah. And all of us depend on him, on 
David-Leib—all of us. If they send him away we’ll have to 
get sacks and go begging. House to house. What else can 
we do?” 

And he told the whole story as well as he could—not too 
clearly, not too consecutively, but always insisting that he 
was not yet eighteen in spite of the beard and in spite of 



287 


The Convoy 


what everybody said. And he turned aside with a cough, wip¬ 
ing his nose and his eyes. 

“It’s a pity, the poor fellow,” said the nogid in spite of 
himself. 

“A shlimazl ,” added Berel with a half-smile. “And his 
brother, in some ways, is not much better. He’d make as 
good a soldier as I would.” And he stuck out his lame leg 
and looked at it from all sides. 


5 THE CONVOY STARTS 

Until the day that we now come to, and until the last min¬ 
ute, Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik did not believe that he 
would be compelled to go with the convoy to Heissin. All the 
time that he waited he busied himself, writing letters to the 
proper people, using what influence he had to free himself. 
But Plisetsky was busy too and his influence was greater, and 
he saw to it that our fine citizen of Teplik took that trip to 

Heissin with the convoy—and on foot! 

“I’ll see to it that you go,” Haman Ivanovitch said to him in 
half-Russian, half-Yiddish, “with your own feet.” And to 
make it worse, the day was bright and hot, a midsummer 
day. No one could escape the heat, it was like a furnace, a 
limekiln. Shopkeepers closed their shops, workers left their 
tools, teachers their schools, and they all went to see the 
nogid being led away. And the people of Teplik, seeing him 
standing with lowered head, said to each other, “Let that be a 
lesson to us.” But in their hearts they rejoiced. They were 
having their revenge. Pity they had only for Berel the Red¬ 
head and for Hennich. 

For Sholom-Ber’s journey his wife had sent a large basket 
with fresh white loaves, roast duck and other good things. 
Berel’s wife and all their children came to bid Berel fare¬ 
well, bringing a small loaf of bread, boiled fish and potatoes 
and a bunch of fresh garlic. Only Hennich had no food at 



Sholom Aleichem 


288 


all to take along, but some strangers in the crowd collected 
enough to buy him a dark loaf, a couple of small salted fish, 
and onions. And all these delicacies were handed over to the 
guard, who took them willingly, promising that every bit of 
it would be safe in his hands. And then Haman Ivanovitch 
appeared on his porch and told the guard to start moving. 
The guard moved, and the prisoners with him, and after 
them all of Teplik. 

The convoy consisted of one Lavre, the guard, a hairy crea¬ 
ture with a fur jacket that he wore winter and summer, a 
tall fur hat, and a long knotty staff with a large wooden 
knob at one end and a sharp iron point at the other. The 
roast duck and the salt fish under one arm, the bread and 
garlic under the other, his report for the district officials stuck 
in his bosom, he started off quickly with his wards, much 
more quickly than you would have imagined. That was be¬ 
cause our prisoners wanted to get rid of their followers, and 
when the older people had dropped away, they begged the 
guard to chase the little children back. They had kept them 
company out beyond the town, beyond the mill, and showed 
no signs of weariness. Lavre raised his staff with the iron 
point and the youngsters disappeared like frightened birds, 
and the prisoners remained alone in the open fields. They did 
not have to hurry any more, they began to take shorter steps 
and slower ones, and one of them suggested to the guard 
that it might be well to sit down for a while on the fresh 
green grass and take a little rest. 

The guard was not such an evil man, and it did not take 
long to convince him. In fact, it is hard to say who was more 
eager to stop. He too was willing to rest and to sample the 
baskets he had been carrying, and to see what those odors 
were that had been tickling his nostrils all the way. He had 
already broken off a few twists of one of the large white 
loaves and found them to his liking. He had tasted one of 
the fishes too and found that with garlic it was not at all 
bad. Walking behind the prisoners, he was able to taste this 
and that without their knowledge, until Sholom-Ber hap- 



289 


The Convoy 


pened to look around and caught him pinching his large 
white loaf and nibbling at what he had pinched off. 

“Our protector,” he said to the others guardedly, “has good 

active jaws.” 

“Pray that he doesn’t choke,” said Berel, cheerfully. “Now 
that you mention it, my own appetite is not so bad either. 
What do you say, Hennich, are you beginning to feel a little 

weak inside too?” 

Hennich moistened his lips and said in his own strange 
manner: 

“Very hungry, no. But a little something to chew, maybe. 
If I had something.” 

“I have everything,” said Sholom-Ber with a quick glance 
back at their guard. 

“Everything?” wondered Berel. “Without a glass of brandy 
you can never say everything.” And to make sure that the 
guard caught the full meaning, he said it over, in Russian: 
“Isn’t it true, Lavre, that a meal without brandy is like eating 

without teeth?” 

“"Pj-yg _ _ # very true . . .” the guard answered earnestly. 
And they juggled their words so long, till they all under¬ 
stood and agreed that as it was not very far from where they 
were to Granov, at most a couple of versts, one of the pris- 
oners—naturally Hennich, the youngest—should dash off for 
a bottle of brandy; and the other two prisoners, Sholom-Ber 
Tepliker of Teplik and Berel the Redhead, guaranteed that 
he would not try to escape. And when they had sent him 
off, the others sat down on the grass in the middle of the 
field, under a tree on a hillock, the prisoners talking with 
each other in low tones, and the guard sitting near them but 
looking with both eyes up the road to Granov. 


6 HE REMINDS HIM OF OED WRONGS 

If I were a painter or a photographer I would have taken 
a picture of this group, the three figures sitting there in the 



290 


Sholom Aleichem 

middle of the field on the hillock under a wild pear tree with 
small green leaves and those small, hard pears that no one 
can eat and that no one ever knows what to do with. 

Between Lavre, the guard, with the tall fur cap, on one 
side, and Berel the Redhead with the crooked leg and the 
red, freckled face on the other, our Sholom-Ber Tepliker of 
Teplik, with the small eyes and the thin beard, with his 
black, satin gabardine and with his black, silk hat, looked like 
a man of state among two common fellows. A man like that 
usually knows how to conduct himself. He may act like any¬ 
body else, like a plain and modest man, and yet he is not 
just like anybody else. Other people talk about the things 
that he wants to talk about, and when he talks, others listen, 
and when others talk, he has the right to interrupt. 

“What do you think of this heat?” he said to Berel with a 
sigh and a glance in all directions. And he rolled his sleeves 
up to the elbows and fanned himself with his silk hat. 

“It’s not at all cold,” answered Berel, following the rich 

man’s glance. 

“I hope it doesn’t rain,” the other went on, with a look up 
at the sky. 

Berel looked up too. “It would be a pity,” he agreed, with 

all of us dressed up like this.” 

“Not a bad fellow, this guard of ours,” continued Sholom- 

Ber, with his eyes on a long, empty wagon that a pair of 
large oxen were pulling up the road, with a little boy on 
the driver’s seat dangling a whip above their ears. 

“Our guard?” echoed Berel. “He’s a gentleman compared 
with those good neighbors of mine who ran to the police 
with the news that a poor hardworking man was selling a 
few bottles of raisin wine. It wasn’t even anything new. It’s 

been going on for years ...” 

“What do you think.” interrupted the nogid again, with 

his eyes on the road that led to Granov. “What do you think? 

He couldn’t have lost his way, could he? I mean, made 

tracks? That boy—what’s his name?” 

“Him?” said Berel. “Why should he do a thing like that? 



291 


The Convoy 


What did he ever do that was wrong? He’s no more a 
criminal than I am.” 

“Speaking of that,” said Sholom-Ber, “what do you think 
they'll do to you?” He was sitting now with his eyes closed, 
meditatively chewing at a blade of grass. 

“For what? For that raisin wine? They won’t hang me, 
that much I know. But beyond that—” he shrugged his shoul¬ 
ders, “let them do what they want. What can they take away 
from me? The holes in my pockets? And if they want me 
to sit a while. I’ll sit. But what I want to know is what 
will they do with you? You’re somebody! You have money, 
position, property . . . 

“I’ll tell you the truth, Reb Sholom-Ber. Don’t be offended. 
But if I were you I’d never have given them a chance to 
throw me into jail like this; for a little thing like that, a bit 
of rubbish, a pan of dirty water! In the first place, I would 
not have been so stubborn, especially with the police. In the 
second, if I were you, I wouldn’t have let them march me 
off this way. Teplik itself should never have allowed it, let- 
ting its nogid be sent to jail by convoy, like a common 
nobody, a penniless lout.” 

At another time Berel would have paid dearly for talking 
like this to Sholom-Ber. He would certainly have been sent 
flying head first. But now on his way by convoy to Heissin, 
Sholom-Ber was not a privileged character. Now a person 
could say anything he wanted to him. And Berel the Red¬ 
head got even with him as well as he could, smoothly, with¬ 
out ever losing his temper. He edged up close to Sholom- 
Ber with his crooked leg, so close that the rich man had to 
move away a little, and he spoke to him like this; 

“Do you know, Reb Sholom-Ber, how long we have known 
each other? It’s been a long, long time. I remember when 
you were a brat no taller than that (Berel held his hand 
down close to the ground). “You must be about my age, at 
the most a year older, or two, and you ought to remember 
me from those days because my grandfather and your father 
were—don’t be afraid, I was not going to sav relatives, al- 



Sholom Aleichem 

though they were that too, forty-second cousins once re¬ 
moved on my mother’s side. What I was going to say was 
that we sat close to each other in the synogogue, your father 
along the east wall and my grandfather in the opposite row 
so that when we all stood facing east I had your back right 
in my face. I still remember your father’s shiny silk coat and 
his broad shoulders and the silver stripes on his tallis; and 
my grandfather, Reb Naftali the vintner—you must remem¬ 
ber him—used to pull his own yellow tallis over his head 
and pinch me every time I looked up from my prayerbook. 
Because apparently I was just as anxious to be praying as 
you were . . . When we were supposed to be standing mo¬ 
tionless you were always looking down at your new boots 
that squeaked. And how I used to envy you, always with new 
boots while mine were always old, always patched. I could 
never get good boots on account of my foot. And that was 
not the only trouble I had on account of that foot. It was 
hard for me to walk, but that too was nothing. What was 
worse was being called Limpy and being mimicked. And 
worst of all was the way you did it, Reb Sholom-Ber—don’t 
be offended! You and others like you, from the richer fami¬ 
lies, spoiled little brats . . 

“I?” cried the nog id with a start, and then he remembered 
that it was true, they used to mimic Berel, make fun of the 
way he jumped on one foot. 

“And making fun of me would not have been so bad 
either, but what was even worse than that was that you 
never let me play with the rest of you. You chased me away 
with sticks and stepped with your heels on my ailing foot, 
right on my toes, and pretended it had been an accident. 
Stepped on them to make me scream, so I screamed, and 

you laughed and held your sides . . .” 

“Now, that you simply made up!” the nogid called out, 
his face red with shame, and he remembered how spoiled he 
had been as a child. He had been able to do anything that 
he wanted to. 

“No, I’m not making it up. It was true and I’ll prove it 



293 


The Convoy 


to you. I told my grandfather and he went and told your 
father, and your father would not believe it. He scolded my 
grandfather, swore that his child was a well-behaved boy 
who wouldn’t have a thing to do with paupers’ children. 
How do you like that? Paupers’ children! From that time on 
I knew what I was—a pauper’s child. But I did not know 
what it meant and I asked my grandfather, and he told me. 
He taught me what it meant to be a poor man’s child, and 
what it was to be a rich man's. But I still could not under¬ 
stand why a rich man’s child could step on the toes of a poor 
man’s child, and the poor man’s child could do nothing about 
it. So I asked my grandfather that too, and he explained it 
to me this way: that a rich man is not a poor man and a 
poor man is not a rich man. In short, the rich were rich and 
the poor were poor. And still that did not make sense, so I 
looked into his eyes, maybe there I could find an explanation 
that his words could not give me. But all I saw was some¬ 
thing like a dark cloud pass over his face, and the wrinkles 
on his forehead. And that was all . . . And I must admit 
there is nothing I can do about it. Ever since that time I 
have had nothing but scorn for the rich and the children of 
the rich, and most of all I have scorned and hated you . . .” 

“Me?” 

“You. Yes, you! You were just a child then, no larger than 
a grasshopper. We were both children. But even later, when 
we were older, when we were Bar-Mitzvah, young men al¬ 
ready, you always turned away from me, as if you didn’t 
know me. You were afraid that \ might greet you, and you 
might have to answei me. You begrudged me even that, ap¬ 
parently. It was not worth your time . . .” 

The nog id of Teplik, Sholom-Ber Tepliker, squirmed and 
made a weak gesture with his hands. “That couldn’t have 
been,” he said without conviction, and at the same time he 
admitted to himself that it was possible. He remembered 
that his father was always reminding him that he was not 
like other children, that the others were not his equal. 

“Don’t be offended, Reb Sholom-Ber. Foolish little things 




Sholora Aleichem 


294 


are never forgotten. When I was mamed the first time (you 
were married a short time earlier) I sent you an invitation, 
but you did not even acknowledge it.” 

“I swear I don’t remember that.” 

“How should you remember? I bet you don’t remember 
this either, that when my wife died, I sent my Uncle Yossi 
(my grandfather was dead already by that time) to tell you 
that I was alone with two small children, forlorn and help¬ 
less. Your answer was that you were a man who did not 

meddle in public affairs.” 

“Did 1 say that? Oh, no! Your uncle must have told you a 

“That may be so. Maybe you’re right. All I know is that 
you did nothing to help me that time, or later either, when 
my house burned down and I was left as naked as when I 
was born. Or later yet, that time we met at Heissin at the 
inn, if you remember, during the Fair. You had come, if I 
remember correctly, to buy some horses or a cow, or maybe 
to sell some grain.” 

The rich man rubbed his forehead, like a man trying to 
remember something, something that eluded him. And he 
wondered why he should have forgotten and the other had 
not. And he did not like it that Berel the Redhead, who in 
Teplik would not have dared say two superfluous words to 
him, should point out all his shortcomings and remind him 
of all his past misdeeds. He did not like it at all, and he 
was on the point of saying so when Hennich arrived from 
Granov with the bottle of brandy, all out of breath from 
running, afraid that someone might catch him with the bottle 
and have him arrested ... 

And the three transgressors sat down to their feast, begin¬ 
ning with a drop of brandy. They offered the guard a glass 
too, and he did not refuse. But they could see that the drink 
did not appeal to him. He made a face, wiped his thick 
mustache with his sleeve, and cursed forsaken Granov and 
its fiery brandy. 

“May seven devils take it! It’s too bitter!” he swore, and 



295 


The Convoy 


he lifted up his hand as if he were taking an oath that as 
long as he lived he would never take another drop. And yet, 
when they had finished the fish and were about to attack the 
roast duck, they prevailed upon him to try another sip. It 
was hard work, but they succeeded, and he agreed to try it 
again, and when they urged him to finish the glass because 
they wanted him to take another, he agreed to that too. 

When they had finished eating, the four of them lay 
down under the pear tree for a little while, not to take a 

nap_that they did not even have in mind—but simply to 

look up at the deep blue heavens and watch the tiny white 
clouds that passed by overhead and disintegrated and then 
disappeared like smoke, and the ravens that swept and 
turned and at the same time appeared motionless. 

Lying on the ground after eating, and looking up at the 
sky, is an excellent way of overcoming sleeplessness. The 
first to prove this was the guard himself, who almost at once 
let out a snore like a frightened horse. And shortly afterward 
was heard the only slightly more modest accompaniment that 
issued from the capable though less consistent nostrils of the 
boy Hennich. He did well while he tried, but he awoke too 
often, sat up too frequently to babble something that was on 

his mind: . , , ,, 

“So tired . . . ran four versts . . . afraid, afraid he d 

catch me . . . the Inspector ... 

The only ones who did not sleep were the rich man, 

Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik, and Berel the winemaker. 
Sholom-Ber was worrying. He wanted to know what it was 
that had happened that time in Heissin at the Fair, what it 
was he had refused to do. And Berel did him a favor and 
told him the whole story in these words. 



Sholom Aleichem 


296 


7 A TRIVIAL INCIDENT IS NOT 
FORGOTTEN 

“Don’t be offended,” Berel began. “A trivial incident is never 
forgotten. I came to Heissin not for the Fair. My oxen were 
still in pasture and my ships were still at sea. Then why di 
I have to come to Heissin at that very time? I came to look 
over a boy whom the shadchan had found for my older 
daughter, by my first wife. I had finally decided to marry 
her off. She was still young, poor child, but her stepmother 
kept nagging me. She wanted her out of the house. And 
what could I do? I asked what good it would do her. Who 
would help her cook and bake and scrub the smaller chil¬ 
dren’s heads, and whom would she be able to curse and pull 
around by the hair? But try to convince a woman! So we 
decided to marry her off. 

“That’s easy to say. But how? What with? With your five 
fingers? There isn’t much that people in our class can do, 
but clothes at least we have to get. Do I mean fine clothes? 
No. But even a cotton dress and some shoes and stockings 
cost money. And you have to get a few nightgowns, a couple 
of pillows, a bedspread, maybe a blanket. That s not counting 
the dowry, and how can a person give less than a hundred 
rubles? And here I was, with less than a hundred kopeks. 

“And as if to tease me, Moislie-Aaron, the matchmaker, 
keeps swamping me with letters, one letter after another, 
saying that he had found a young man in Heissin, just the 
right boy for my daughter, one boy in a hundred, one in a 
million. I’d never find another one like him. And whose boy 
is it? Yankel the carpenter’s, a poor man’s child, but a very 
gifted one, advanced in his studies, a good penman—every¬ 
thing! And he played the fiddle like the devil himself! 

“So I wrote to Moishe-Aaron and told him that first of all 
I was in no hurry to consider a match, and in the second 
place I had to know how much dowry he expected, because 
maybe it was not for my purse at all. And in the third place. 



The Convoy 


297 

why didn’t Yankel come here first, at least to take a look at 
the girl. So he answers me at once—Moishe-Aaron, that is 

_and tells me that my first point, that I was not interested 

in a match, was nonsense, because he knew and everybody 
else knew that a daughter is not a son, and it s never too 
soon to marry her off. And as for what I had said about a 
dowry, that was foolish of me. Were we talking about an ox 
or a cow that we should start bargaining? These were his 
very words. And as for coming to look at my daughter, that 
was not necessary, either. Yankel knew all about her already 
A neighbor of his from Hcissin had been in my house and 
had seen the girl and he could not begin to praise her 

highly enough. 

‘■At any rate—a letter here, a letter there—1 took my feet 
in my hands, as the saying is, and went off to Heissin. And 
when I saw the boy I felt as if 1 had never seen anyone 
like him in my life before. His face was like that of a prince 
his brain a prime minister’s. When he spoke, every word 
was a jewel. And when he played the fiddle you could forget 
every musician who ever lived! I was in love with him my¬ 
self and I swore that no matter what happened I would have 
him for my daughter. But go do something when your pock¬ 
et's empty! If I only had a hundred rubles! Or even part o 
it to give as a deposit! The boy himself did not care about 
a dowry. Give it to him or don't give it to him, it was all 
the same. But the carpenter, the devil take him was stub¬ 
born and you couldn't budge him. If a grand duchess herself 
wanted to marry his son she’d have to pay a dowry before 

she could lead him to the canopy. 

“I turned to the shadchan. 'Reb Moishe-Aaron, I said, do 

something. Say something.’ 'What can I say?’ he asked. Do 
something quick. It looks bad. You’ll never get anywhere 
with this stubborn ox. Only yesterday I almost hit him over -the 
head with his plane.’ Did you ever hear anything like thah 
Yet there was the boy before my eyes. I cou dn t drive him 
out. I simply had to have him for my daughter. I d die 

didn’t have himl 



298 


Sholom Alcichem 

“In the meantime, I looked around at the inn, and whom 
did I see? Reb Sholom-Ber Tepliker! God alone, I told my¬ 
self, could have brought him there. And I wasn t shy. I went 
right up and greeted you, like an old friend. I was so happy 
to see you! Why? Because, I thought to myself, you would 
surely ask me what I was doing here in Heissin, and I would 
tell you that I was here for a match. And you would say, 
‘With whom?’ And I would say, ‘With Yankel the carpenter. 
And vou would say, ‘How much dowry are you giving/ 
And I would say, ‘Ah, that's the whole problem! The car¬ 
penter says that I’ll have to lay down a hundred, and all I 

have is a fig.’ And then you would say . . . 

“But what happened really? You didn't ask me a thing. 

So without your asking, I told you that I had come not for 
the Fair, but to arrange a match for my daughter. Why did I 
do that? Because I thought that then you would have to ask 
with whom, and then I could say, ‘With Yankel the car¬ 
penter.’ And then you would say, ‘What dowry arc you giv¬ 
ing?’ And I'd say . . . But you know already what I was 
going to say, and yet what happened? Not the trace of a 

question! 

“So I decided to tell you without being asked. I told you 
whom the match was with, and I praised the boy to the 
skies, as I could do in all truthfulness. Well ... I did all 
the talking. You didn’t say a word. My story made no im¬ 
pression, as if it went through one ear and out through the 
other. So I said to myself, why should I be a diplomat? The 
time had come to say it directly—tear the tooth out by the 
root! And what did you do then? You refused me outright. 
And scolded me besides.” 


“I scolded you? What did I say?” 

“Do you want me to tell you? Ah, trivial things are never 
forgotten. And so I remember. You asked me what right did 
I have to bother you, what right did I have to expect you 
to go throwing out a hundred rubles at a time . . .” 

“But did you tell me what you needed the money for?” 
“Did I tell you? Don’t you remember? And this was your 



The Convoy 


299 

answer: ‘What makes you so anxious to marry off your daugh¬ 
ter to a millionaire?’ And when I told you how well the 
boy played the fiddle, you said to me, It’s lucky he plays the 
fiddle. What if it was a trumpet?’ Here I was, suffering 
anguish, desperate for help, and you made fun of me, prac¬ 
ticed your jokes on me . . . Apparently you were feeling 

good that day.” 

Reb Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik listened to the whole 
story, sweated, said nothing. What had really happened that 
day he did not remember, but there had been something to 
do with a hundred rubles. That much he remembered. And 
he was ashamed of himself, ashamed to think that he had 
once refused a small thing like that which would have meant 
so much to this man and his family. The story itself now 
interested him too, and he asked: •'Well, how did the match 

turn out?” 

‘‘There wasn’t any.” 

‘‘What do you mean—there wasn’t any?” 

“The carpenter wouldn’t have anything more to do with 

me. The devil take him!” 

“And your daughter? The girl?” 

“My daughter? I buried her long ago. I killed her and 
buried her myself. You don’t believe me? Well, what could 
I do? Could I make a dowry with my own hands? ... A 
year went by, two years went by. There is no such thing, 
you know, as a Jewish convent. And the stepmother con¬ 
tinued to nag. So I married the child off to a bookbinder as 
penniless as myself. A good man, an honest one, but sickly, 
tubercular. He struggled along a few years and then he died, 
leaving me this inheritance—three little children. Yes, I was 
the one to inherit them, because my daughter had caught his 
disease and she died too, a year later. Do you see? So now 
I have not only children from my own two marriages, but 
three little orphans besides. But such children! You wont 
find their equal in the richest families. ‘Grandpa, where are 
you going?’ they asked when Haman had me taken away. 
‘To Heissin,’ I told them. ‘When I come back I’ll bring you 



Sholom Alelehem 

all some chocolate.’ And do you think they didn’t know that 
I was telling them a lie? You should have seen them stand 
around me, like little lambs, without a sound, but with tears 
in their eyes. You can imagine what they looked like if I 
tell you that Haman Ivanovitch himself reached into his 
pocket and gave them a gulden to buy sweets with. 


8 WHICH PERTAINS TO HENNICn 
AND HIS F AW ILY 

Bcrel the Redhead had nothing more to say. After a pause 
he stood up, straightened his ailing leg, and limping over to 
Hennich snapped his finger across the lad's nose. 

“Look here!” he said. “Haven’t you slept long enough al¬ 
ready?” 

Hennich awoke with a start, wiped his eyes, and seeing 
the nogid looking at him, picked himself up quickly and 
began to babble: 

“I didn’t begin to sleep! I was thinking about poor David- 
Leib. They say more than eighteen. And what will happen 
to the poor children?” 

“Listen to him talk!” said Berel to Sholom-Ber. “A real 
shlimazl! 1 was telling you just now about my bad luck, but 
compared to him I’m a rich man, a millionaire! And a man 
of influence, too . . . I’m the man who got David-Leib the 
job that he supports the family with. Eight mouths!” 

“Nine you can say,” Hennich corrected him. “Two broth¬ 
ers and an old mother. A sister of thirteen who does house 
work. And a younger brother in a shop. And two smaller 
girls. And a boy in cheder, a younger one. And where am 1? 

“You? You are as good as buried!” Berel told him. “What 
are you now, and what will you ever be?” And turning to 
Sholom-Ber he said, “Now his brother David-Leib compared 
to him is a prime minister. A genius he’s not; but he’s not a 
fool, either. He’s honest. The whole family is honest; they 



301 


The Convoy 


wouldn’t steal a beigel from anyone. But David-Leib is both 
honest and capable. 

“Well, one day he came to me with this story. In Heissin 
a sugar refinery had just been built that was owned by Reb 
Zalmen Rademishler, and Reb Zalmen Rademishler belonged 
to the Sadagora chassidim. Now I belong to the Sadagora 
chassidim too, and David-Leib's father—may he rest in peace 
—was also one of them. So he wanted me to go to see Reb 
Zalmen and ask him if he would find work somewhere in his 
refinery for him. ‘What kind of work would you want?’ I 
asked, and he told me, ‘Anything at all, so long as it’s work.’ 
‘Idiot,’ I said, ‘tell me what you can do.’ And he said, ‘I can 
do anything. I know arithmetic and bookkeeping. I can 
write and I can copy.’ ‘Where did you learn all that? I asked 
him. ‘By myself,’ he said, and took a piece of paper out of 
his pocket for me to show Reb Zalmen what his handwriting 
was like. 

“Well, he bothered me so much that in order to get rid 
of him I put on my shoes and again went to Heissin, on foot. 
And when I came to Reb Zalmen’s refinery they wouldn’t 
let me in. What’s the matter? And they tell me this. If I 
came just to visit Reb Zalmen, he did not have time to see 
me. And if I had some business to do, I should go into the 
office. I said to myself, ‘Bah! I don’t like this at all!’ What 
kind of talk was this—no time—business—office? We Sada¬ 
gora chassidim don’t believe in such tricks. ‘Go,’ I said, ‘tell 
Reb Zalmen that I, Berel the Redhead from Teplik, am 
here to see him about something important, and not on busi¬ 
ness, and I can't wait, because I have no time either!’ So 
they tell me that Reb Zalmen is at his prayers, he just 
started a little while ago. ‘If so,’ I said, ‘that’s different.’ But 
at the same time, was that an excuse? Couldn’t he see me 
anyway? But the answer to that is that he was a rich man 
and people had to show respect for him. If I were rich, the 
whole world would respect me too. 

“So I sat down and waited. I waited an hour and two and 



Sholom Aleichem 


302 


three, right by the door. All around me was rush and bustle. 
People came and went, this one in, that one out. It was get¬ 
ting late. Someone came past me with a tray and a samovar 
and food that I'd never even seen before. So I said to 
myself, ‘This I don’t like either!’ And I decided: why be 
formal? So I opened the door and in I went. ‘How do you 
do, Reb Zalmen,’ I said. ‘How do you do,’ said he, ‘and 
where are you from?’ ‘From Teplik,’ I answer him. ‘Didn’t 
you recognize me? I’m Berel. I was in Sadagora together 
with you once, to see our Rabbi.’ ‘Maybe so, he said, but I 
didn’t remember you and I still don’t know you. My eyesight 
is not so good any more, not good at all. I went to all the 
doctors around here and then I went to Mendelstam, and he 
gave me black glasses to wear and told me not to read or 
write and keep away from sunlight.’ ‘Oh-ho,’ I said to myself, 
‘you’re telling me a story I heard from my grandmother!’ 
And then to him, ‘Listen to me, Reb Zalmen. This is what 
I came for. You remember Benny from Teplik, don’t you?’ 
And he said, ‘Which Benny?’ ‘Benny Tellerlecker,’ I tell 
him. ‘No,’ he says, ‘this is the first time I’ve heard the name 
—Tellerlecker.’ ‘That,’ I said, ‘won’t help you. You knew 
him well enough. We all drank wine together in Sadagora 
and danced together on the Rabbi’s table, and more than 
once embraced each other, you and he and I, and now he s 
in Eternity—may he intercede for us there.’ 

“When he heard this, Reb Zalmen became another man al¬ 
together. These rich men must be very much afraid of death. 
‘What do you want?’ he asks, ‘what do you want of me?’ 
‘What should I want?’ I say, ‘I want to fulfill my promise to 
the dead. A few hours before he died, this same Benny 
Tellerlecker called me and a few other friends together and 
told us that he had gone to see you a couple of times here 
in Heissin, wanted to talk with you about something, but had 
not been allowed to come in. He was a quiet little man, you 
remember, and he never liked intrigue or politics; so when 
he saw that he was not wanted he turned around and went 
back home again. But now, that he was about to begin an- 


303 


The Convoy 


other journey, and a longer one, from which no one ever 
returns, he wanted to bid farewell to each of us separately, 
and through each of us he sent his regards first to the Rabbi 
of our order, and then to you. And he asked me to give 
this message to you: he leaves everything he has to you— 
that is, he leaves his whole family to you, and he knows 

that you will never abandon them.’ 

“ 'What can I do for them?’ said he, reaching into his 
pocket. ‘Ah-ha,’ thought I, ‘a donation. Never!’ And I said, 
‘What I want you to do is to take his eldest son, David-Leib, 
and give him work, a job.’ When a rich man hears the 
word job he has a stroke. ‘Where can I get him a job? 
Where can I find work for him? Every job is taken.’ ‘That 
story,’ I said, ‘you can tell someone else, not me! I don’t want 
to hear any excuses from you. You have to find a job for 
Benny’s son. He knows arithmetic and bookkeeping, he can 
copy and write. So please be so kind now and call for a 
glass of brandy and a bite to eat, because I'm starved. I’ve had 

nothing in my mouth all day.’ 

“Well, why should I drag out the story? We Sadagora 
Chassidim are simple people. Reb Zalmen promised me that 
he would take the boy, so when I came home I sent David- 
Leib back to Heissin. For a while he lay around, waiting. 
Reb Zalmen told him that he would have to talk it over 
with his son first, his son Reb Yossil, and Reb Yossil was 
not in town. Later, when Reb Yossil returned, Reb Zalmen 
was out of town. But at last they had to take him in, and 
today he is their chief executioner.’’ 

“Cashier,” corrected Hennich, and explained to them what 
a cashier was. “He has to do with money. He takes it and he 
gives it out.” 

“Thanks for making it clear,” said Berel. “Otherwise we 
would never have known.” 

And he went over to the guard, pulled him by the sleeve, 
and w'oke him up. 

“Hey, Lavre, what’s the matter with you? It’s time to sober 



Sholom Aleichem 

And Lavre obeyed him. Slowly he got up from the ground, 
slowly he looked up at the sky to see where the sun was, 
then he picked up his staff, lined up and counted his three 
wards, and together they continued their journey. 


9 THE DIOGID REPENTS 

The sun was close to setting, the heat had begun to abate, 
and the convoy was near the outskirts of Granov, the first 
scheduled stop on their journey, when the three prisoners 
stopped near a windmill, turned their faces toward the east, 
and began their evening prayers. Lavre stood a little to one 
side leaning against his staff, his cap pushed back, and looked 
with curiosity at the Jews nodding and swaying and once or 
twice beating their breasts. 

Of the three, it was Reb Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik 
who prayed with the greatest feeling. That evening he was 
not satisfied with merely touching his breast twice, he really 
beat it. “Forgive us. Our Father, for we have sinned; pardon 
us. Our King, for we have transgressed.” With all his heart 
he regretted his past behavior, the things he had done and 
the things he had neglected to do. And he compared himself 
to this tattered creature, Berel the Redhead, and he was 
ashamed of himself. Berel, who had hardly enough to keep 
himself alive, had not hesitated to go a long distance on foot 
in someone else’s behalf, to force his way into a rich man s 
presence, humble himself in order to do someone else a 
favor. And he, Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik, had been un¬ 
willing even to hear about someone else’s troubles', he had 
been cold, cold as ice. And he was sorry that he had acted 
that way, and most of all he was sorry for the way he had 
treated Berel in connection with the match he had tried to 
arrange for his young daughter, in Heissin, at the time of 
the Fair. 

He felt now that he owed something to Berel the Red¬ 
head for the share he might have had in the killing of his 



305 


The Convoy 


daughter. For if he had listened to Berel’s request, if he had 
shown a trace of pity, a trace of love for a poor man, his 
daughter might still be alive and happy. And Sholom-Ber felt 
that if he could still right at least a small part of the wrong, 
he would feel much better. But he did not know how to 
do it. And as he went on with his prayers his whole life 
passed in review before his eyes, almost for the first time. 
And he could not understand how he had ever been so 
satisfied with himself, and had thought that he had done his 
duty if only he said his prayers every day and dropped an 
occasional thr ee-kopek piece in the charity box. 

The Tepliker nogid, Sholom-Ber Tepliker of Teplik, re¬ 
membered how he had bargained for every groschen that 
had to be torn from him by force. He had given the Holy 
Scrolls to the synagogue for his own glory, but he had re¬ 
fused a small loan to the scribe who had made the scrolls. 
And he burned with shame. He felt that until that day his 
soul had been asleep, that his heart had lain under a weight 
somewhere, with ice around it. And he wanted to do some¬ 
thing for Berel, and he did not know how. 

He had lived fifty-six years, more than three-quarters of 
the seventy he hoped to live, and all his life had been one 
long war to add one groschen to another. To whom would 
he leave it all? He had no children, and his kinsmen all 
hated him. And he remembered things he had long forgotten, 
and a cold chill gripped his heart. He promised that from 
now on, at least, in his old age, he would be more considerate 

of his fellow men. . 

Having finished their prayers, our convoy resumed its jour¬ 
ney. Berel limped along, joking with Hennich, and the nogid 
walked alone, deep in thought. He walked faster and faster, 
without looking to left or right, without knowing that he 

was getting ahead of the others. 

“What’s your hurry, Reb Sholom-Ber?” the redhead called 

to him. “I can’t keep up with you.” 

“Is it hard for you to walk, Reb Berel?" the nogid asked. 
‘‘Here, give me your hand and we’ll go together. And when 



Sholom Aleichem 


306 


we come home again, with the Lord s help, I want you to 
come to me, both of you. There is something I have to tell 

you.” 

Berel could not understand. What did he have to tell 
them? And why at his home? Why not now, where they 
were? And why had he suddenly become so humble? 

Hennich did not even try to understand. All he said was, 
“If only the Lord has mercy. If only David-Leib is saved.” 

“Don’t worry,” said Sholom-Ber. “Even if he goes. I’ll take 
care of all of you. I'll take care of everybody.” 


When the convoy entered Granov the sun had already set, 
all but a bright golden strip along the horizon. They were 
greeted with music, a chorus of the croaking of frogs mingled 
with the bleating of sheep and goats being led home for the 
night in a cloud of dust. And that was their good fortune. 

In the cloud of dust the people did not see who was being 
led through their town! Otherwise the good people of Granov 
might have welcomed them with the same respect and es¬ 
corted them beyond the town with the same parade with 
which they were greeted and escorted at Michaelovka and 
Mitchulka and Krasnopilka and Zdakovitz and all the other 
points along the way between Teplik and Heissin. 



THE FIDDEE 


Today I’ll play you something on the fiddle. 

I don’t know how you feel, but as for me, then is nothing 
more wonderful than to be able to play a fiddle As far back 
as I can remember my heart has gone out to the fiddle. In 
fact, I loved everything about music. Whenever there was a 
wedding in our town I was the first one on hand to greet 
the musicians. I would steal up behind the bass violin, pluck 
a string—boom!—and run off. Boom-and run off again 
For doing this I once caught the devil from Berel Bass. Bere 
Bass, a fierce-looking man with a flat nose and a sharp eye, 
pretended not to see me as 1 stole up behind his bass violin 
But just as I was stretching my hand out to pull at the 
string he caught me by the ear and led me to the door with 

a great show of courtesy. „ , 

“Don’t forget to kiss the mazuza on your way out, he 


S3 id , 

But that experience taught me nothing. I couldn't stay 

away from musicians. I was in love with every one of them, 

from Shaike Fiddele, with his fine black beard and sh 

white fingers to round-shouldered Getzie Pe.kler with the 

big bald spot that reached down to his ears. Many a time 

when they chased me away, I hid myself under a bench and 

listened to them playing. From under the bench I watched 



Sholom Aleichem 


308 


Shaike’s nimble fingers dancing over the strings and listened 
to the sweet tones that he so skillfully drew out of his little 

fiddle. 

After that I would go around for days in a trance with 
Shaike and his fiddle constantly before my eyes and moving 
through my dreams at night. Pretending that I was Shaike, 

I would crook my left arm, move my fingers, and draw the 
right arm across as though I held a bow. All this while I 
threw my head to one side and dreamily shut my eyes. Just 
like Shaike. Exactly like him. 

When the rabbi caught me—this was in cheder —drum¬ 
ming my finger in the air, throwing my head back and roll¬ 
ing my eyes, he gave me a loud smack. “You rascal, you are 
supposed to be learning something, and here you are fool¬ 
ing around—catching flies!” 

I vowed to myself, “Let the world come to an end, I must 
have a fiddle. No matter what it cost, I must have one.” But 
how do you make a fiddle? Naturally, of cedarwood. It is 
easy to say—cedarwood. But where do you get this wood 
that is supposed to grow only in the Holy Land? So what 
does God do? He gives me this idea: we had an old sofa 
at our house, an inheritance from my grandfather, Reb 
Anshel, over which my two uncles and my father had quar¬ 
reled for a long time. My uncle Ben argued that he was the 
oldest son, therefore the sofa was his. Uncle Sender argued 
that he was the youngest, therefore the sofa belonged to 
him. My father admitted that he, being only a son-in-law, had 
no claim to the sofa, but since his wife, my mother, was my 
grandfather’s only daughter, the sofa rightfully belonged to 
her. All this time the sofa remained at our house. But my 
two aunts. Aunt Itke and Aunt Zlatke, entered the feud. 
They carried their bickerings back and forth between them. 
The sofa this, the sofa that. Your sofa, my sofa. The whole 
town rocked with it. Meanwhile, the sofa remained our sofa. 

This sofa of which I speak had a wooden frame with a 
thin veneer which was loose and puffed out in several places. 



309 


The Fiddle 


Now this veneer, which was loose in spots, was the real 
cedarwood that fiddles are made of. That was what 1 had 
heard in cheder. The sofa had one drawback which was really 
a virtue. When you sat down on it you couldn't get up, be¬ 
cause it sloped—there was a bulge on one end and a de¬ 
pression in the middle. This meant that no one wanted to 
sit on it. So it was put away in a corner and was pensioned 

^But now I began to cast an eye at this sofa. I had already 
arranged for a bow a long time ago. 1 had a friend, Yude 
the teamster’s Shimeleh, and he promised me as many hairs 
as I would need from the tail of his father’s horse. And a 
piece of resin, to rub the bow with, I had all my own. I 
hated to rely on miracles. I got it in a trade with another 
friend of mine—Maier, Lippe-Sarah’s boy—for a small piece 
of steel from my mother’s old crinoline that had been lying 
up in the attic. Later, out of this piece of steel, Maier made 
himself a knife sharpened at both ends, and was even 
ready to trade back with him, but he wouldn t think of it. 

He shouted at me: H 

“You think you’re smart! You and your father too. Here 

I go and work for three nights, sharpening and sharpening 

and cut all my fingers, and you come around and want it 

ba Well 8 Thad everything. There was only one thing to do— 
to pick off enough of the cedar veneer from the sofa. And 
for that I chose a very good time-when my mother was 
out shopping and my father lay down for his afternoon nap. 
I crept into the corner with a big nail and began clawing 
away with real energy. In his sleep my father heard someone 
burrowing, and apparently thought it was a mouse- He began 
to hiss- “Shhh, shhhhh.” I didn’t move, I didn t breathe. 

My father turned over on his other side and when I heard 

that he was snoring again I went back to my wor ' . 

denly I looked up—there stood my father, watching me with 
a puzzled look. At first he didn’t seem to know what was 
going on, but when he saw the gouged-out sofa he dragg 



Sholom Aleichem 


310 


me out by the ear and shook me till I rattled. I thought I 
was going to faint. 

“God help you—what are you doing to the child?” my 
mother screamed from the threshold. 

“Your pride and joy! He’s driving me into my grave!” 
gasped my father, pale as the white-washed wall, as he 
clasped at his heart and went into a coughing spell. 

“Why do you eat yourself up like that?” asked my mother. 
“You’re sick enough without that. Just take a look at your¬ 
self, just look!” 

The desire to play the fiddle grew as I grew. The older I 
grew, the more anxious I was to be able to play, and as if 
in spite I had to listen to music every day. Just about half¬ 
way between home and cheder there was a small sod-covered 
shack, and whenever you passed that shack you heard all 
sorts of sounds, the strains of all kinds of instruments, and 
especially the sound of a fiddle. It was the home of a musi¬ 
cian, Naftaltzi Bezborodka, a Jew with a shortened coat, with 
clipped earlocks and with a starched collar. His nose was 
large and looked almost as if it were pasted on, his lips were 
thick, his teeth black, his face was pockmarked and without 
the trace of a beard. And that was why they called him 
Bezborodka, the beardless one. His wife was a crone who 
was known as Mother Eve, and they had at least a dozen 
and a half children—tattered, half-naked, barefoot, and every 
one of them, from the oldest to the youngest, played on 
some instrument—this one the fiddle, that one the cello, the 
other the bass, one the trumpet, another the flute, the bas¬ 
soon, the harp, the cymbal, the balalaika, the drum. Some of 
them could whistle the most complicated melody with their 
lips, or through their teeth, on glass tumblers or pots, or on 
pieces of wood. They were magicians—or devils of some 
sort! 

With this family I became acquainted in a most unex¬ 
pected way. I was standing under their window one day, 
drinking in the music, when one of the boys caught sight of 



The Fiddle 


311 


me and came out. He was Pinny, the flutist, a boy about 

fifteen, but barefoot like the rest. 

“What do you think of the music? he asked. 

“I wish I could play that well in ten years,” I told him. 
“You can,” he said, and explained that for two rubles a 
month his father would teach me to play. Or, if I wanted, he 
himself would teach me. 

“What instrument would you like to play?” he asked. The 
fiddle?” 


“The fiddle,” I said. 

“The fiddle,” he repeated. “Could you pay a ruble and a 

half a month—or are you as penniless as I am?” 

“I can pay ” I told him. “But there is one thing. Neither 

my father nor my mother nor my rabbi must know a thing 


about it. ~ , 

“God forbid!” he exclaimed. “Why should anyone find 

out?” He moved up closer to me and whispered, “Have you 

got a cigar butt—or a cigarette?” I shook my head. No? 

You don’t smoke? Well, then, lend me a few groschcn so 1 

can buy some cigarettes. But don’t tell anybody. My father 

doesn’t know that I smoke, and if my mother found out she d 

take the money away and buy some bread.” 

He took the money and said in a friendly voice, “Come on 

in You’ll get nothing done standing out here.” 

With great fear, my heart pounding and my legs trem¬ 
bling, I crossed the threshold of this small paradise. 

My new friend Pinny introduced me to his father. This 
is Sholom—Nochem-Vevik’s. A rich man s son . . . e 


wants to learn to play the fiddle. 

Naftaltzi Bezborodka pulled at his earlock, straigh ened his 

collar, and buttoned up his coat. Then he began a long and 

detailed lecture on the subject of music in general andI fiddle- 

playing in particular. He gave me to understand that the 

fiddle was the best and finest of all instruments-there was 

no instrument that ranked higher. Else why is the fiddle the 

chief instrument in an orches-ra, and not the trombone or 



Sholom Aleichem 


312 


the flute? Because the fiddle is the mother of all instru¬ 
ments . . . 

Thus Naftaltzi spoke, accompanying his words with mo¬ 
tions of his hands and large nose. I stood gaping at him, 
swallowing every word that came out. 

“The fiddle," Naftaltzi continued, apparently pleased with 
his lecture, “the fiddle, you understand, is an instrument 
that is older than all other instruments. The first fiddler in the 
world was Tubal Cain or Methuselah, I am not sure which. 
You may know, you study such things in cheder. The second 
fiddler was King David. The third, a man named Paganini, 
also a Jew. The best fiddlers have always been Jews. I can 
name you a dozen. Not to mention myself . . . They say I 
don’t play badly, but how can I compare myself to Paganini? 
Paganini, we are told, sold his soul to the devil for a fiddle. 
He never would play for the great of the world—the kings 
and the princes—no matter how much they gave him. He 
preferred to play for the common people in the taverns and 
the villages, or even in the woods for the beasts and birds. 
Ah, what a fiddler Paganini was!" 

Suddenly he turned around: “Fellow artists—to your in¬ 
struments!" 

Thus Naftaltzi called out to his band of children, who 
gathered about him immediately, each with his own instru¬ 
ment. Naftaltzi himself struck the table with his bow, threw 
a sharp look at each child separately and at all of them at 
once, and the concert began. They went at it with such fury 
that I was almost knocked off my feet. Each one tried to 
outdo the other, but loudest of all played a little boy named 
Chemeleh, a thin child with a running nose and bare spindly 
legs. Chemeleh played a strange instrument—some sort of a 
sack—and when he blew, it gave out an unearthly shriek, 
like a cat when its tail is stepped on. With his bare foot 
Chemeleh marked time and all the while watched me out of 
his small impish eyes and winked at me as if to say, “I am 
doing well, ain’t I?" . . . But hardest of all worked Naftaltzi 
himself. He both played and conducted, working with his 



313 


The Fiddle 


hands, his feet, his nose, his eyes, his whole body; and if 
anyone made a mistake, he gritted h.s teeth and yelled out. 
“Forte, you fool! Forte, fortissimo! Count, stupid—cou t. 

One, two, three! One, two, three! 

I arranged with Naftaltzi Bezborodka to take three lessons 
a week an hour and a half each time, for two rubles a 
month. I begged him over and over to keep ‘h.s a secret o 
I would get into trouble. He gave me h.s word of honor that 

he would breathe it to no one. .. .. f 

••We are people,” he said gravely, adjusting h.s collar of 

small means, but when it comes to honor and .ntegnty we 

have more than the richest of the rich. By the way— can you 

S TpuIed a fe :r"” rny pocket. Naftaltzi took it from 
me like a professor—very refined—with the tips of his fi 
gets. Then he called Mother Eve, and hardly looking at her, 

said “Here, get something for dinner. , . , , 

Mother Eve took the money from him with both hands 
and every one of her fingers, inspected it carefully, and sa.d, 

^Anything^o^want,” he said with a show of indifference^ 
••Get a few rolls—two or three herring—a sausage. And 
don't forget—an onion, some vinegar and o.l-and, maybe, 

3 Whe;°L br foo d d y was laid out on the table the crowd fell 
on it w.th such gusto as after a fast. Watch.ng them made 
me so ravenous that when they asked me to join them I 
couldn’t refuse. And I don’t know when I enjoyed any 

aS When we were 'through, Bezborodka winked at < he 
r^yttw^ and ! rtUhoufe drunk with 

Naftaltzi Bezborodka’s “composition. (he books 

All that day in cheder the raooi, me y 



Sholoni Aleichem 


314 


all danced before my eyes and the music rang incessantly in 
my ears. At night I dreamed of Paganini riding the devil. 
He hit me over the head with his fiddle. I woke screaming, 
my head splitting, and I began to babble—I don t know 
what. Later my older sister Pessel told me that I was out of 
my head. What I said made no sense—crazy words like 
“composition,” “Paganini,” “the devil” . . . Another thing 
my sister told me was that while I was sick someone came 
to ask about me—somebody from Naftaltzi the musician—a 
barefoot boy. He w'as chased away and told never to come 
back. 

“What did that fiddler’s boy want from you?” my sister 
nagged, but I held my tongue. 

“I don't know. I don’t know a thing. What are you talking 
about?” 

“How docs it look?” my mother said. “You are a grown 
boy already—we are trying to arrange a match for you—and 
you pick yourself friends like these. Barefoot fiddlers! What 
have you got to do with musicians anyway? What did Naf- 
taltzi’s boy want of you?” 

“Which Naftaltzi?” I asked innocently. “What musicians?” 

“Look at him!” my father broke in. “He doesn’t know a 
thing. Poor little fellow! At your age I was engaged a long 
time already, and you are still playing games with children. 
Get dressed and go to chcder. And if you meet Hershel 
Beltax on the w'ay and he asks what was the matter with you, 
tell him you had a fever. Do you hear what I said? A fever.” 

I didn’t begin to understand. What did I have to do with 
Hershel Beltax? And why did I have to tell him about a 
fever? In a few weeks my question was answered. 

Hershel Beltax (he was called that because he and his 
father and his grandfather had all worked for the tax col¬ 
lector) was a man with a round little belly, a short red 
beard, small moist eyes and a broad white forehead—the 
mark of a wise man. He had the reputation in town of being 
an intelligent man, accomplished and learned—up to a cer- 



315 


The Fiddle 


tain point—in the Torah. He was a fine writer—that is, he 
had a clear handwriting. It was said that at one time his 
writings were known all over the countryside. And besides 
that he had money and a daughter, an only daughter, with 
red hair and moist eyes—the exact image of him. Her name 
was Esther, she was called by a nickname—Flesterl. She was 
timid and delicate, and terribly afraid of us schoolboys be¬ 
cause we teased her all the time. When we met her we sang 

this song: 


Esther, Flester, 

Where is your sister? 

What was so terrible about that? Nothing, it seemed to 
me, and yet when Esther heard it she covered her ears and 
ran off crying. She would hide in her room and not go ou 

on the street for days. 

But that was a long time ago when she was a child. Now 
she was a grown girl with long red braids and went abou 

dressed in the latest fashion. My mother was »ery ® » f 
her. “Gentle as a dove,” she used to say. Sometimes on Satur¬ 
day Esther used to come to visit my sister and when she saw 
me she would turn even redder than she was and drop her 
"yes And my sister would call me over and start asking me 

questions—and watch us both to see how we acted 

One day—into the cheder walked my father with Hershel 
Beltax, and behind them trailed Reb Sholom-Shachne the 

matchmaker, a man with a curly black beard, 

fineers as people used to say. Seeing such guests, the rabbi, 

Reb Zorach, grabbed his coat and P ut "Jr "and 

hurry that one of his earlocks was caught behind his ear and 

his skullcap stuck out from under his hat, and his cheeks 
a Wp could see that something unusual was 

° «»»»■* 



Sholom Alcifhcm 


316 


shrugging their shoulders, gesturing with their hands—end¬ 
ing up with a sigh. 

“Well, it’s the same old story. If it’s to be, it will be. 
Regardless.” 

Now when these guests came in, the rabbi, Reb Zorach, 
was so confused he didn’t know what to do or where to seat 
them. He grabbed hold of a low bench on which his wife 
used to salt the meat, and carried it around the room with 
him, till he finally put it down and sat on it himself. But 
he quickly jumped up and said to his guests, “Here is a 
bench. Won’t you sit down?” 

“That's all right, Reb Zorach,” said my father. “We just 
came in for a minute. We’d like to hear my son recite some¬ 
thing—out of the Bible.” And he inclined his head toward 
Hershel Beltax. 

“Surely, why not?” said the rabbi, and picking up the 
Bible he handed it to Hershel Beltax, with a look that said, 
“Here—do what you can with it.” 

Hershel Beltax took the Bible like a man who knew what 
he was doing, bent his head sideways, shut one eye, shuffled 
the pages and handed it to me open at the first paragraph 
of the Song of Songs. 

“The Song of Songs?” said Reb Zorach with a smile, as 
though to say, “You couldn’t find something harder?” “The 
Song of Songs” says Hershel Beltax, “is not as easy as you 
think. One has to understand it.” 

“That’s not a lie,” said Reb Sholom-Shachne, the match¬ 
maker, with a laugh. 

The rabbi beckons to me. I walk up to the table, and 
begin to chant in a loud voice, with a fine rhythm: 

“The Song of Songs! A song above all other songs. Other 
songs have been sung by a prophet, but this song was sung 
by a prophet who was the son of a prophet. Other songs have 
been sung by a sage, but this was sung by a sage who was 
the son of a sage. Other songs have been sung by a king. 
This was sung by a king who was the son of a king.” 

While I sang I watched my examiners and saw on the 



31T 


The Fiddle 


face of each of them a different expression. On my father s 
face I saw great pride and joy. On the rabbi’s face was fear 
lest I make a mistake. His lips silently repeated each word. 
Hershel Beltax sat with his head bent sideways, h.s beard be¬ 
tween his lips, one eye shut, and the other raised aloft hs- 
tenina with a very knowing look. Reb Sholom-Shachne the 
matchmaker did not take his eyes off Hershel Beltax the 
whole time. He sat with his body bent forward swaying back 
and forth along with me, interrupting me with a ^nd tha 
was part exclamation, part laugh, part a cough, pointing his 

fineers at me: „ 

“When 1 said he knew it I really meant he knew it. 

A few weeks later plates were broken, and I became 
gaged to Hershel Beltax's daughter, Flesterl. 

Sometimes it happens that a person ages more in one 
day than in ten years. When I became engaged I suddenly 

-■= 333 

I, ,o.M h, , ,h,» . '^"^5 

named Eli, who, like me, was engaged ‘° ^ ™ r k ‘fing Qn the 

a Whipping in cheder because e^vas g ab out it, 

ice with some peasant boys. The whole town t 

and when his fiancee learned of the vandal she^nedso long 

zen over • • • but n ot over a whipping, 

Such a calamity befell , > fidd le. And here is 

and not over skating on ice, dui ovc 

the story: frequent guest, Tchetchek. the 

Lionel. He was a strapping 



Sholorn Aleichem 


318 


fellow, tall, with a large, round beard and sinister eyebrows. 
His speech was a mixture of several languages, and when he 
spoke he moved his eyebrows up and down. When he low¬ 
ered his eyebrows his face became black as night, and when 
he raised them, his face glowed like the sun, because under 
those thick eyebrows were a pair of eyes that were bright 
blue and full of laughter. He wore a uniform with gold but¬ 
tons and that was why we called him Colonel. He came to 
our tavern frequently—not because he was a heavy drinker, 
but because my father used to make a raisin wine—“the best 
—and rarest—Hungarian wine” that Tchetchek could hardly 
praise enough. He would put his enormous hand on my 
father’s thin shoulder and roar in his queer mixed language: 

“Herr Kellermeister, you have the best Hungarian wine in 
the world. There is no such wine even in Budapest, pred- 
bozhe." 

Tchetchek was very friendly with me. He praised me for 
my stories and liked to ask questions like: “Who was Adam? 
Who was Isaac? Who was Joseph?” 

“You mean— Yosef?" I would say. 

“I mean Joseph.” 

"Yosef," I corrected him again. 

“To us he is Joseph, to you he is Yosef” he would say 
and pinch my cheek. “Joseph or Yosef, Yosef or Joseph, it’s 
all the same, all equal —wszystko yedno " 

But when I became engaged Tchetchek’s attitude also 
changed. Instead of treating me like a child he began to talk 
to me as to an equal, to tell me stories of the army and of 
musicians. (The Colonel had wonderful stories to tell but no 
one had time to listen except me.) Once, when he was talk¬ 
ing about music, I questioned him, “What instrument does 
the Colonel play?” 

“All instruments,” he said, and raised his eyebrows. 

“The fiddle too?” I asked, and his face became in my eyes 
the face of an angel. 

“Come to my house some day,” he said, “and I will play 
for you.” 



319 


The Fiddle 


“I can only come on the Sabbath. But please, Colonel, no 
one must know.” “Przed bohem ” he said fervently and raised 
his eyebrows. 

Tchetchek lived far off beyond the town in a small white 
cottage with small windows and brightly painted shutters, 
surrounded by a garden full of bright, yellow sunflowers thal 
carried themselves as proudly as lilies or roses. They benf 
their heads a little, swayed in the breeze and beckoned t c 
me, “Come to us, young man, come to us. Here is space, 
here is freedom, here it is bright and fresh, warm and cheer¬ 
ful.” And after the stench and heat and dust of the town, 
the noise and turmoil of the crowded cheder, I was glad to 
come, for here was space and freedom, here it was bright 
and fresh, warm and cheerful. I felt like running, leaping, 
yelling, singing, or like throwing myself on the ground with 
my face deep in the fragrant grass. But that is not for you, 
Jewish children. Yellow sunflowers, green grass, fresh air, the 
clean earth, the clear sky, these are not for you . . . 

When I came to the gate the first time, I was met by a 
shaggy, black dog with fiery, red eyes, who jumped at me 
with such force that I was almost knocked over. Luckily he 
was tied to a rope. When Tchetchek heard me yell he came 
running out of the house, without his uniform on, and told 
the dog to be quiet. Then he took me by the hand and led 
me up to the black dog. He told me not to be afraid. Here, 
pat him—he won’t hurt you.” And taking my hand he passed 
it over the dog’s fur, calling him odd names in a kindly 
voice. The dog dropped his tail, licked himself all over and 
gave me a look that said, “Lucky for you my master is stand¬ 
ing here, or you would be leaving without a hand. 

Having recovered from my fright, I entered the house 
with the Colonel and there I was struck dumb: all the walls 
were covered with guns, and on the floor lay a skin with 
the head of a lion—or maybe a leopard with fierce teeth. 
The lion didn’t bother me so much—he was dead. But those 
guns—all those guns! I didn’t enjoy the fresh plums and 



320 


Sholom Aleichem 

juicy apples with which my host treated me. I couldn’t keep 
my eyes away from the walls. But later, when Tchetchek 
took out of its red case a small round fiddle with an odd 
belly, spread over it his large round beard and placed on it 
his huge powerful hand and passed the bow over it a few 
times, and the first melody poured out, I forgot in one in¬ 
stant the black dog, the fierce lion and the loaded guns. I 
saw only Tchetchek’s spreading beard, his overhanging eye¬ 
brows, I saw only a round fiddle with an odd belly, and 
fingers which danced over the strings with such speed that it 
was hard to imagine where so many fingers came from. 

Then Tchetchek himself disappeared—with his spreading 
beard, his thick eyebrows, and his wonderful fingers—and I 
saw nothing in front of me. I only heard a singing, a sigh¬ 
ing, a weeping, a sobbing, a talking, a roaring all sorts of 
strange sounds that I had never heard in my life before. 
Sounds sweet as honey, smooth as oil, kept pouring without 
end straight into my heart, and my soul soared far far away 
into another world, into a paradise of pure sound. 

“Would you like some tea?” calls out Tchetchek, putting 
down the fiddle and slapping me on the back. 

I felt as though I had fallen from the seventh heaven 
down to earth again. 

After that I visited Tchetchek every Saturday to listen to 
his playing. I went straight to the house, not afraid of any¬ 
one, and I even became so familiar with the black dog that 
he would wag his tail when he saw me, and try to lick my 
hand. But I wouldn’t allow that. “Let’s be friends at a dis¬ 
tance,” I said. 

At home no one knew where I spent my Saturdays. No one 
stopped me. After all, I was not a child any more. 

And they wouldn’t have known until now if a fresh ca¬ 
lamity had not occurred—a great calamity which I shall now 
describe. 

Who should care if a young fellow takes a Sabbath walk 



321 


The Fiddle 


by himself a short distance out of town? Whose business is 
it? Apparently there are people who care, and one such per¬ 
son was Ephraim Klotz, a busybody who knew what was 
cooking in every pot. He made it his business to know. This 
man watched me closely, followed me, found out where I 
was going, and later swore with many pious oaths that he had 
seen me at the Colonel’s house eating pork and smoking 
cigarettes on the Sabbath. 

Every Saturday when I was on my way to Tchetchek’s I 
would meet him on the bridge, walking along in a sleeveless, 
patched, summer coat that reached to his ankles. He walked 
with his arms folded behind him, his overcoat flapping, hum¬ 
ming to himself in a thin voice. 

“A good Sabbath,” I would say to him. 

“Good Sabbath,” he would reply. “Where is the young man 

going?” 

“Just for a walk,” I said. 

“For a walk? Alone?” he repeated, with a meaningful 
smile . . . 

One afternoon when I was sitting with Tchetchek and 
drinking tea, we heard the dog barking and tearing at his 
rope. Looking out of the window, I thought I saw someone 
small and dark with short legs running out of sight. From 
his way of running I could swear it was Ephraim Klotz. 

That night, when I got home, I saw Ephraim Klotz sitting 
at the table. He was talking with great animation and laugh¬ 
ing his odd little laugh that sounded like dried peas pouring 
out of a dish. Seeing me, he fell silent and began to drum 
with his short fingers on the table. Opposite him sat my 
father, his face pale, twisting his beard and tearing hairs 
out one by one—a sign that he was angry. 

“Where are you coming from?” asked my father, with a 

glance at Ephraim Klotz. 

“Where should I be coming from?” I said. 

“Where have you been all day?” said my father. 

“Where should I be all day? In shut .” 



Sholom Aleichem 


322 


44 


44 ’ 


“What did you do there all day?” 

'What should I be doing there? Studying . . . 

‘What were you studying?” said my father. 

“What should 1 be studying? The Gatnorah . . . 

“Which Gamorah?” said my father. . , 

At this point Ephraim Klotz laughed his shrill laugh and 
my father could stand it no more. He rose from his seat an 
leanin- over, gave me two resounding, fiery slaps in the face. 
My mother heard the commotion from the next room an 

came running in . . . 

“Nochem,” she cried, ‘‘God be with you! What are you 
doing? The boy is engaged to be married. Suppose his 

father-in-law hears of this?” 

My mother was right. My future father-in-law heard the 
whole story. Ephraim repeated it to him himself. It was too 

good to keep. 


The next day the engagement was broken and I was a 
privileged person no more. My father was so upset that he 
became ill and stayed in bed for days. He would not let me 
come near him, no matter how much my mother pleaded 

for me. 

“The shame of it,” he said. ‘‘The disgrace. That is worst 
of a11 ” 

“Forget about it,” my mother begged. “God will send us 
another match. Our lives won’t be ruined by this. Perhaps it 

was not his lot.” 

Among those who came to visit my father while he was 
ill was the bandmaster. When my father saw him, he took off 
his skullcap, sat up in bed, and extending an emaciated 

hand, said to him: 

“Ah, Colonel, Colonel . . .” 

More he could not say because his voice became choked 
with tears and he was seized with a fit of coughing. This 
was the first time in my life that I had seen my father cry. 
My heart ached and my soul went out to him. I stood staring 



323 


The Fiddle 


out of the window, swallowing tears. How I regretted the 
trouble I had caused! 

Silently I swore to myself never, never to disobey my 
father again, never to cause him such grief, never in this 
world. 

No more fiddles. 



THE DAY BEFORE 
YOM KIPPER 

(Sketches of Disappearing Types) 

1 NOAH-WOLF THE BUTCHER 

If the day before Yom Kippur were three times as long as 
it is, it would not be long enough for Noah-Wolf the 
butcher to finish his work in time for the evening services. 

And this is his work: he has to apologize to a townful of 
people for his year’s misdeeds. He has to go to all the cus¬ 
tomers who buy meat from him, all the neighbors who live 
in the same street with him or have their shops near his, or 
sit close to him in the butchers’ synagogue. 

There is not a person in our town with whom Noah- 
Wolf has not had an argument at one time or another. Not 
that Noah-Wolf is such an evil person, but he undoubtedly 
has, as he himself says, an ugly temper. He simply has to 
fight with people. 

If you come into his shop for some meat, you are met 
with a pailful of cold water. And he cannot even tell you 
why. 

A housewife comes in: “Reb Noah-Wolf, do you have any 
fresh meat today?” 

And he answers: “How should I have fresh meat? If you 
want rotten meat, you can get it.” 

Or: “Noah-Wolf, give me a good portion.” 

“I’ll give you just the kind of portion you deserve.” 



325 The Day Before Yom Kippur 

Or this: “What kind of carcass are you giving me, Noahv 
Wolf! Look at it!” 

“What does a carcass like you know about carcasses? 

That is how Noah-Wolf treats his customers, the house¬ 
wives themselves. So how would you expect him to treat 
the servant girls? When one of them has to go to his shop, 
she curses her fate. She knows what a greeting she can ex¬ 
pect. Either he will slap her across the face with a beef 
tongue, or he'll fit her marketbasket over her head, or he 11 

simply chase her out. 

“Get out of here! Go to some other shop! There are 

enough butchers without me!” 

Nevertheless one thing has nothing to do with another. 
Noah-Wolf the butcher may be stubborn and eccentric, and 
yet his customers won’t go anywhere else, because they know 
that he is the most honorable butcher in town. They know 
that his scale is true and that he keeps his word. If he tells 
you that the meat w'as slaughtered yesterday, you know that 
it is so. And if he promises you some sweetbreads, or a piece 
of lung, or a neat’s foot for Saturday, you can sleep in peace. 
The lung or the foot is as good as yours. Furthermore, he 
will never connive with your servant girl to rob you behind 
your back. And he won’t combine with other butchers to 
raise their prices. That is why the servant girls slander him, 
and the other butchers would like to drown him in a spoon¬ 
ful of water. He sticks in their throats like a bone. He is a 
stubborn man. If he makes up his mind on anything, he’s 
like an ox being dragged to slaughter. You can’t make him 

b uc te e - . , , j 

And he even looks like an ox. He is tall and broad and 

red-faced, and his hands are enormous. When he raises his 
cleaver to split a side of meat he does it as ferociously as 1 
the ox or cow had committed some crime and had been con¬ 
demned to be chopped to pieces by him in person. 

‘That man is a murderer!” they say in our town, and there 
are grown people who are actually afraid of him. 

But if all year long he gets under your skin, he changes 



326 


Sholom Aleichem 

with the coming of the New Year. Then you would hardly 
recognize him. He becomes someone else, pious. God-fear¬ 
ing, virtuous, and sees omens in everything. He stops fighting 
with the other butchers, becomes soft as butter toward his 
customers, is considerate to the servant girls, becomes so 
unctuous you could almost spread him over a boil. Even 
when he chops his meat now he does it differently, not mur¬ 
derously as before, but gently, mercifully. A different Noah- 
Wolf altogether. 

The day before Yom Kip pur he locks up very early (he 
had said his morning prayers when most of us were still 
asleep), puts on his holiday gabardine, and goes from house 
to house, to all his customers and neighbors, friends and ac¬ 
quaintances, to offer his apologies, to ask for pardon for the 
year’s misdeeds. 

“Good yom-tev he says. “If anything I have said offended 
you, I want to apologize, and wish you a happy New Year. 

And they say to him: “The same to you, Noah-Wolf. May 
God pardon us all.” 

And they invite him to sit down and they treat him to a 
piece of holiday torte. 


2 EZRIEL THE FISHERMAN 

Since the world was created, you have never seen as ill- 
tempered a creature as Ezriel the fisherman. 

An ill-tempered man with angry eyes, thick eyebrows, 
bristling mustache, and a beard that looks as if it has been 
pasted on. And he wears a quilted jacket summer and win¬ 
ter, with the fringes of his tallis-kot’n sticking out under¬ 
neath. And he smells of raw fish a mile away. 

All week long you don’t see him at all. But before every 
Sabbath and every holiday he appears in the marketplace 
with his wagon piled high with fish. On top of the wagon 
sits a girl with pockmarked face, watching the fish. And his 



327 


The Day Before Yom Kippur 


wife, Maita, a heavy, swollen woman, stands alongside the 

wagon with a stick and watches the fish. 

-pjsh—fish—fresh and quivering! Women! Fish tor Sab¬ 


bath!” 

That is the way Ezriel the fisherman announces his wares 
across the marketplace, in his loud, familiar chant, and he 
never takes an eye off the women who have already crowded 
around his wagon and laid siege to it from all sides, clutch¬ 
ing the fish by the heads, peering under the gills, poking at 
the eyes or prodding at the bellies to see if the fish is tresh. 
These liberties Ezriel hates and despises like something un- 

kosher, and he chases the women away. 

“Away from here! You’ve pawed over them long enough 


already!” 

This he hurls at them in a quick undertone, and then 
once more to the world at large, in his loud, clear chant: 
“Pish—fish—fresh and quivering! Women! Fish for Sab 


bath!” 

Every woman, whether a housewife or a servant girl, is 
treated alike by Ezriel the fisherman. Fie watches her like a 
hawk. Fie does not suspect anyone of being a thief, but he 
knows that when it comes to fish, you can never tell. The 
richest, most honorable, most charitable woman is frequently 
torn by the desire to make off with a good, fresh fish if no 
one is looking. “Fish,” he says, ‘‘is a temptation that is hard 

for a woman to resist.” 

Every year at least one scandal takes place around Ezriel s 
wagon. He slaps some woman across the face with a wet 
and shiny pickerel. From all directions men and women 
come running up; there is noise and confusion. The crowd 
puts in a word for the woman, gives her advice, tells her to 
file a complaint with the Justice of the Peace, or have Ezriel 
dragged off to the rabbi. But since the pain is moral rather 
than physical, it soon wears off, and the whole affair comes 

to nothing. 

Most of the women know him already. They would think 



Sholom Aleichem 


328 


no more of edging too close to his fish than to the gold and 

precious stones under a king’s guard. 

“How much are your rubies and emeralds today? a woman 
may ask, standing with her basket at some distance and 
pointing with her little finger at the wagon. 

“I deal in fish, not rubies!” Ezriel answers proudly, without 
even condescending to give the woman a glance with his 
angry eyes. And once more he lets out his call to the world 
at large: 

“Fish—fish—fresh and quivering! Women! Fish!” 

“An apoplectic man!” the women say of him. They would 
much rather not have anything to do with him, but that is 
impossible. There is not another fisherman in town, so what 
can one do? Lie down on the ground and die? Or live 
through the Sabbath without fish? But that is even worse 
than dying, for if a woman dies she knows she is dead: it’s 
all over. But if she comes home without fish for Saturday, 
then she has her husband’s wrath to contend with. And that 
is worse than dying. 

“I wish something terrible would happen to him!” 

That is what the women say when Yom Kippur eve comes 
around and they rush off to the marketplace with their bas¬ 
kets, afraid that they might be too late, because the day be¬ 
fore Yom Kippur Ezriel is in the habit of getting up so 
early that God himself is still in bed. And when other peo¬ 
ple are just getting ready for their morning prayers, Ezriel is 
through with everything and is all dressed up for the holi¬ 
day. His heavy, quilted jacket has been put away and he 
wears the coarse, shiny, black gabardine that is seen only 
on the Sabbath and high holidays, but which nevertheless is 
saturated through and through with the odor of raw fish. 

Ezriel begins his fast earlier than anyone. Earlier than any¬ 
one he comes to the synagogue that afternoon, takes his place 
close to the back wall, covers his head with his prayer shawl, 
and stands without rest for twenty-four hours. He won’t sit 
down even for a minute. He prays quietly, so that no one 



329 The Day Before Yom Kippur 

can hear a word. He weeps a great deal, but no one can ever 
see a tear. 

But that is in the evening. Before that, all day long, he 
goes around the town to his customers, bringing his apolo¬ 
gies, asking their pardon. 

“If anything I have said to you during the year offended 
you, I want to apologize, and wish you a happy New Year.” 
And they say to him: 

“The same to you, Reb Ezriel. May God pardon us all.” 
And they invite him to sit down and they treat him to a 
piece of holiday torte. 


3 GETZI THE GOVERNOR 

Getzi the Governor—that is what we always called the 
shammes, the sexton, of the old synagogue. 

Everywhere, in all the synagogues of the world, a shammes 
may be a shammes. But Getzi, the shammes of our old syna¬ 
gogue, is more like a member of the board of governors than 
a shammes. Did I say a member of the board? He acts like 
the president of the board! 

Getzi does not permit any secular business in the syna¬ 
gogue. He says that a synagogue is a place of worship. If you 
want to talk business you can go to the marketplace. If you 
want to discuss politics there is a bath house. Under no con¬ 
ditions will he let you talk during an intermission or a re¬ 
cess. Getzi is a man who shows no respect for anyone. You 
can be the holder of a pew by the eastern wall, you can 
have seventeen silver stripes on your tallis, he won t debase 
himself before you. You can be the richest person in town, 
Reb Joshua Hershel himself, if you say a single word out 
loud, you hear his hand come pounding down on the table, 
and a cry of “Qui-et!” so loud that you are almost deafened. 

Or try to take one of the sacred tomes from the synagogue 



Sholom Aleichcm 

bookshelf, and forget to bring it back in time! You’ll be put 
in your place soon enough. 

Or if on the Sabbath you pledge a half pound of candles 
for the synagogue, or eighteen kopeks for the poor fund, and 
then forget to give it! You might as well go bankrupt, or 
leave everything behind and rush off to America! 

Or try to send Getzi on an errand that has nothing to do 
with the synagogue. This is what you’ll hear: "Do you have 

feet? Then go yourself!” 

That's the kind of man Getzi is. 

The only ones who dare to be impudent with Getzi are 
the small fry. Inquisitive youngsters, small boys barely learn¬ 
ing their alphabet, mischief makers, pranksters of all kinds, 
these make life miserable for him. The things they do to 
him would make anyone shudder. They turn over the prayer 
stands when no one is looking, they let water out of the 
washbowl, tie knots in the towels, let tallow drip on all the 
holy books, and tear Yekum Purkon out of all the prayei 
books, so that no matter which one you open the prayer is 

missing. 

These little troublemakers shortened Getzi’s life, they 
taught him the terrors of Gehenna. He kept constant watch; 
maybe he would catch one of them in the act. And when he 
caught one, he evened accounts for everything the whole 
band had ever done. To emerge from his grasp with only a 
light bruise, a black eye, or an ear that was only partly pulled 
off, that was luck indeed. Getzi hated drawn-out affairs* 
worthless investigations and formal trials. No matter whore, 
he caught, a rich man’s child or an orphan in rags, it made*, 
no difference. 

Getzi knows all about slapping. When you feel his hand 
you behold your grandfather in Paradise. A powerful man, 
from a family known for its strength, although to look at 
him you would have hesitated to give two broken kopeks for 
him. Lean, dried up, skin and bones. But his sidelocks were 
thick and black, and he himself was dark as a Tartar, with 
fierce, black eyes, hollow cheeks, a crooked nose, and black 



331 


The Day Before Yom Kippur 

drooping mustache. All these things taken together made 
him look either as if he was about to sneeze but was trying 
not to, or as if he had something to tell you but was keeping 
it to himself, or simply as if he were an ill-tempered, evil 

man. 

The most evil man in town, was what a lot of people 
called him. A worm-eaten, spiteful creature who knew no 
master and did whatever he pleased. If he wanted to open 
the synagogue, he opened it. If he wanted to shut it, he shut 
it. When winter came, you had to get down and beg him to 
start the fire. But when he did make up his mind to start it, 
you thought you were in a steam bath. 

Let some wandering pauper beg with his last breath to be 
allowed to spend the night in the synagogue. “A synagogue 
is not a poorhouse,” says Getzi, and drives the poor man 
out without a trace of pity. 

And when the High Holidays come around, Getzi rules in 
the synagogue with a strong and ruthless hand. If he has 
conceived a dislike for you, you will never get his permission 
to let your son or son-in-law sit where you would like to 
have him. You can resign yourself to this: he will sit where 
Getzi wants him to. And if you go up to the trustees with 
your complaint, you’ll get this answer: ‘ Go to the governor. 

And you know that what they mean is Getzi the shammes. 
To his face you will call him Getzi, but behind his back he 
is the Governor. 

It’s like that all the time. During Succos, if Getzi does not 
bring the esrog to you on time and you complain, he says:^ 
“You can wait a minute, can’t you? I waited longer for you! 

So once more you bring your charges to the trustees. But 

this is the only answer you get: 

“What can a person do with a governor?” 

All year long it’s the same. Getzi provides the materials 
for all the holidays, candles for Hannukah, noisemakers for 
Purim, matzo for Passover, and greens for Shevuos. Getzi 
runs the whole town, rules over it like a king. Like a king? 
Like a conqueror! All of us have to endure it. The only time 



Sholom Aleichem 


332 


when people dare to talk is on the Sabbath or a holiday, at 
dusk, when we sit and wait in the gathering darkness for the 
evening services. Then we can say something. For a few 
minutes we do not have to be afraid of the shammes, we can 
talk freely and openly. And no matter what we talk about, 
we come finally to the Getzi captivity, which seems worse to 
us than the Babylonian captivity we have heard about. We 
ask each other, “How long? Till when? How long will this 
captivity last?” And that is as far as we go. What else can 
we do? We Jews have suffered under so many evil kings 

and governors! 

But there is one day of the year when Governor Getzi 
suspends his tyranny. Not a whole day, but a half day, really 
only a few hours. That is the day before Yom Kippur, right 
after the morning prayers, and before people start coming 
for the high services, when Getzi once more becomes king. 
But during those few hours he forgets that he is shammes, 
forgets he is governor. He is dressed in his holiday best, and 
he "runs from house to house, stops everywhere, with these 

words: 

“If anything I have said to you at any time offended you, 
forgive me. And may you have a happy New Year. 

And he gets this reluctant answer: “You too, you too.” 

And they invite him to sit down and they give him a 
piece of holiday torte. 



THREE EITTEE HEADS 


I offer you a present for Shevuos, a picture of three little 
heads three wonderfully fine heads of three poor, tattered, 
barefoot Jewish children. All three little heads are dark, with 
curly hair and eyes big and luminous that stare at you with 
wonder and always seem to ask the question: “Why?” You 
look back at them with wonder and a feeling of guilt as it 
somehow you are to blame for their having been created, 
three more superfluous creatures on the face of the earthy 
The three little heads— Avremchik, Moisechik and 
Dvorka—are two brothers and their little sister. Avremchik 
and Moisechik—that was what their father, Peiseh the box- 
maker, called them, in the Russian manner. If he hadn t been 
afraid of what his wife would say, and if he weren t such a 
bitterly poor man, he'd have changed h,s own name too 
from Peiseh the boxmaker to Piotr Pereplotchik. But since 
he was afraid of his wife, and since he was as poor as he 
could be, he remained, for the time being, Peiseh the box- 
maker, till the time should some day come, the happy time 
when everything would be different, as Bebel said and as 
Karl Marx said, and as all good and wise men say. But 
until that lucky time arrived, he would have to stand from 
morning till dark, cutting cardboard and pasting boxes and 

C °SoPe[seh the boxmaker stands on his feet all day and cuts 
cardboard and puts together boxes, and sings songs, some 



334 


Sholom Aleicfaem 

of the old ones and some new ones, some Jewish songs and 
some not a bit Jewish—many of them not a bit Jewish— 
happy sad songs with a sad happy tune. 

“Will you ever stop singing those outlandish songs? You 
must have fallen in love with them! Since you have come 
to the big city you are not a Jew any more.” 

The three—Avremchik, Moisechik and Dvorka were 
born and grew up in the same place, between the wall and 
the oven in a single crowded room. Every day the three 
saw the same things before them: their jolly father who cut 
the cardboard, pasted boxes and sang songs; and their wor¬ 
ried, exhausted mother, who cooked and baked, swept and 
scrubbed and was never finished. Both were always at work, 
the mother at the oven, the father at his boxes. Who would 
ever need so many boxes? What would they do with all these 
boxes? The whole world must be full of boxes. That’s how 
it seemed to the three little heads, and they waited for their 
father to get so many boxes ready that he would have to pile 
them on his head, and fill both arms with them—maybe a 
hundred thousand boxes—and then go out with them. Later 
he came back without any boxes—with no boxes at all, but 
with a little money for their mother, and with oddly shaped 
buns, beigel and candy for the children. 

How good their father was to them, how wonderfully 
good! Their mother was good too, but she was the one to 
scold them. Rushing between washtub and oven, she pushed 
them out of her way, gave their hands a slap, boxed an ear. 
She did not want them to upset things playing house. She 
did not want Avremchik to cut up the scraps of cardboard 
that fell from his father’s work table, or Moisechik to steal 
paste from the pot, or Dvorka to make mud cakes. Their 
mother always wanted them to sit quietly and sedately. Their 
mother forgot that young heads worked all the time, that 
young spirits tore themselves, pulled with all their might, 
strained toward—toward what? Toward the outdoors, to¬ 
ward the light, toward the window—the window . . . 

One window—that’s all there was. One small window. 



Three Little Heads 


335 

The three little heads try to reach the one small window— 
and what can they see there? A wall, a high, broad, gray 
damp wall, always damp, always dripping, even in summer. 
Does the sun ever come in here at all? Of course the sun 
comes in—sometimes. That is, not the sun itself, but a glim¬ 
mering reflection of the sun. And when that happens it is a 
time for rejoicing. The three little heads crowd against the 
small window, look up, way up, and glimpse a long, nar¬ 
row, blue strip, like a long blue ribbon. 

“There, do you see that, children? That’s the sky! 

That is Avremchik speaking. Avremchik knows. Avrem- 
chik goes to cheder. He is already studying the alphabet. 
The cheder is not so far—two houses away, or rather two 
doors away. Oh, what stories Avremchik tells about cheder. 
Avremchik says that he himself saw, on his word of honor, 
a huge brick building covered with small windowpanes from 
top to bottom. He swears that he saw with his own eyes, on 
his word of honor, a chimney, a tall chimney reaching to the 
sky, with smoke pouring out of it, and machines that run 
by themselves without anybody operating them, and carts 
that move without horses. And other such fabulous tales Av¬ 
remchik brings back from his trips to cheder, and swears, as 
his mother swears, on his word of honor. And Moisechik and 
Dvorka listen to him and sigh with envy, because Avrem¬ 
chik knows everything—everything. 

For instance, Avremchik knows that a tree grows, 
course he himself has never seen a tree grow any more t an 
they have—there are no trees on their street—but he knows 
(he heard it in cheder) that trees bear fruit. And that is why 
when you eat fruit you say, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our 
God, King of the universe, who createst the fruit o e 
tree.” Avremchik knows (what doesn't he know?) that po¬ 
tatoes, for instance, or cucumbers, or onions or garlic grow 
on the ground. And that is why for these things you say, 
“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, 
who createst the fruit of the earth.” Avremchik know, 
everything! But he doesn’t know how or in what manner 



Sholom Aleichem 


336 


these things grow either. For on their street there is no 
field, no garden, there are no trees, there’s not a blade of 
grass—not one! On their street there are only tall buildings, 
gray walls, high chimneys pouring smoke, and every building 
is covered with windowpanes, thousands of little window- 
panes, and inside the buildings are machines that run by 
themselves, and carts that move without horses. And aside 
from that there is nothing, nothing. 

Even a bird is rarely seen. Sometimes a sparrow blunders 
into the neighborhood and the sparrow is as gray as the walls 
themselves. It pecks once or twice at the cobblestones, 
rises and flies away. And chickens, ducks, geese? Once in a 
great while they have a quarter of a chicken for Saturday, 
chicken with a pale scrawny leg. How many legs does a 
chicken have? Obviously four. Just like a horse. That is Av- 
remchik’s opinion, and Avremchik knows everything. 

Sometimes their mother comes from market bringing a 
chicken’s head with glazed filmy eyes. “It’s dead,” says the 
older Avremchik, and the three little heads look at each 
other with large dark eyes and sigh. Born and brought up in 
the great city, in the large buildings, in crowded quarters, the 
three children never had a chance to see anything alive—a 
hen, a cow, or any other creature except a cat. They have 
their own cat, a live one, a large cat, gray as the tall gray 
damp walls. The cat is their one joy. They play with it 
whenever they can. They tie a kerchief around its head and 
call it Auntie, and laugh uproariously. 

But then their mother catches them at it and goes after 
them, slaps one’s hands, boxes another’s ears, sends them back 
to their place behind the oven. The oldest, Avremchik, be¬ 
gins to talk and the younger ones listen, look up wide-eyed at 
their older brother, and listen. Avremchik says that their 
mother is right. He says that you’re not supposed to 
play with a cat, because a cat is an unclean thing, an evil 
spirit. Avremchik knows everything, everything. Is there any¬ 
thing in the world that he doesn’t know? 

Avremchik knows everything. He knows that there is a 



337 


Three Little Heads 


land, a land far away, far far away, that is called America, 
There in America they have many friends and relatives. 
There in America Jews have a better life and a happier one. 
Next year, or the year after, if all is well and someone sends 
them tickets from over there, they plan to go to America 
too. Without tickets you can’t go, because there is an ocean 
you have to cross, and storms come up and toss the ship 
about. Avremchik knows everything. 

Everything . . . Even what goes on in the next world. 
For instance, he knows that in the next world there is a 
Paradise—for Jews, of course. In that Paradise you’ll find the 
most brilliant trees with all kinds of fruit, rivers flowing with 
all good things. Diamonds and precious stones are scattered 
over the streets; all you have to do is bend down and fill 
your pockets with them. And pious Jews sit day and night 
studying the holy books and enjoying the divine presence. 

Avremchik tells them all these things, and the children’s 
eyes sparkle and they envy their brother, who knows every¬ 
thing—even what happens in heaven. Avremchik swears that 
twice a year—one night of Succos and one night of Shevuos 
—the skies split open. Of course he has never seen the 
skies split open, because where they live you can t see the 
sky. But some of his schoolmates saw it happen. They swore 
that they saw it. And they wouldn’t swear to a lie, would 
they? That would be a sin. And to prove that the skies really 
split open, Avremchik runs to his mother and pulls her 
skirts. 

“Mama, isn’t it true that this Shevuos at midnight the 
heavens will split open? Isn’t it true?” 

“Split open? My head is splitting open!” cries their 
mother, pulling herself away from his grasp. 

And getting only this answer from their mother, Avrem¬ 
chik waits for their father to come home. Their father has 
gone to market with a stack of boxes. 

“Children, what do you think he’s going to bring us to¬ 
day?” 

And the children begin to guess. They count on their fin- 



Sholom Aleichem 


338 


j»ers—everything that could possibly be at the market, 
everything that the eye could see and the heart could long 
for—all those oddly shaped buns and the beigel and the 
candy. But none of them guessed right, and I am afraid that 
none of you will guess it either. This time Peiseh the box- 
maker brought neither buns nor beigel nor candy. He 
brought grasses, a bagful of grasses, strange, long, green, 
sweet-smelling grasses. 

And the three little heads, Avremchik, Moisechik and 
Dvorka, surrounded their father. 

“Oh, what is it? What did you bring? What is it?” 

“Greens. Can’t you see?” 

“What do you mean—greens?” 

“Greens for the holidays. It’s Shevuos tonight. All Jews 
need greens for Shevuos .” 

“Where do you get them?” 

“Where do you get them? M-m-m . . . You buy them at 
the market.” 

And saying this, he scatters the green, fragrant grasses over 
the freshly swept floor. He keeps some of it in his hands 
and fingers it and sniffs at it joyfully. 

“Isn’t it wonderful?” 

“Wonderful for you!” says their mother. “A wonderful lit¬ 
ter. Something new for the children to mess with.” 

That’s how their mother takes it, as she goes on with her 
work, always worried, always burdened, just the opposite of 
their father. 

And the three little heads look at their mother, look at 
their father, look at each other. And when their parents’ backs 
are turned for a moment, they throw themselves on the floor, 
bury their heads in the fragrant grasses, fondle and kiss the 
rough blades that are called greens, and that Jews must have 
for their holidays, and that you buy at the market. 

Everything can be found at the market, even greens. Their 
father brings them everything. There are so many things that 
Jews must have, and they get them. Even greens . . . Even 
greens . . . 



A COUNTRY PASSOVER 


Let the winds blow. Let the storms rage. Let the world turn 
upside down. An old oak that has been standing since the 
beginning of time, whose roots have sunk deep into the 
earth, cares nothing about winds. He pays no heed to 

storms ... , 

This old oak is not a symbol. It is a living person named 

Nachman Verebivker of Verebivka. He is tall and broad 
shouldered, a giant of a man. The whole town envies him 
his strength, and at the same time pokes fun at him. 
“How do you do?” they greet him. “How is your health to¬ 
day?” Nachman knows they are making fun of his height, so 
he bends his shoulders to make himself look smaller, a little 
less like a peasant. But it doesn’t help. God has made him 

bid# 

Nachman is an old settler in Verebivka. The peasants who 
call him “Our Lachman” consider him a pretty good fellow, 
a man of intelligence, with whom they like to talk things 
over once in a while. They come to ask him what to 
do about their grain. “Lachman” has an almanac, so he 
ought to know if grain will be high or low this year. Some¬ 
times they discuss affairs of the world. “Lachman” goes to 
town occasionally, he sees people, he knows what goes on 
outside of their village. 



340 


Sholom Aleichem 

It is impossible to imagine Verebivka without Nachman 
Verebivker. Not only did his father Feitel Verebivker live 
and die there, but also his grandfather, Aryah, may he rest 
in peace. Aryah, a wise man and one who liked to play with 
words, used to boast that the town was named Verebivka 
because Aryah Verebivker lived there. Actually he had lived 
there long before the town was ever known by that name. 
And do you think he said this only to be talking? He was 
not that kind of a man. What he was referring to was the 
decrees against the Jews. Even in those days they spoke of 
driving the Jews out of the villages; and not only talked but 
actually drove them. All of them were driven out, that is, all 
but old Aryah Verebivker. It is said that the governor him¬ 
self could do nothing about it, for Aryah proved that accord¬ 
ing to law he could not be forced out of Verebivka. He had 
lived there too long for that . . . Oh, those men of old! 

Naturally if one is such an exception as to be permitted to 
live in Verebivka, one has a right to feel secure, and can 
laugh at the whole world. Why does a man have to worry 
about decrees, proclamations or statutes? Why does he have 
to pay attention to the stories that the peasant Kurachka, his 
neighbor, is always bringing from the district office? Kur¬ 
achka was a short, heavy-set man who wore a short, heavy 
jacket and tall boots and a large watch on a silver chain, like 
a landed proprietor. He was clerk in the district office and 
knew everyone’s troubles. In addition he read all the choice 
newspapers that printed inflammatory stories against the 
Jews. 

By nature Kurachka was not such a bad fellow. He was a 
neighbor of Nachman’s and supposedly a good friend. When 
Kurachka had a toothache, “Lachman” gave him a remedy 
for it. When Kurachka’s wife was having a baby, “Lachman’s” 
wife acted as midwife. But for some time now, since he 
had started reading those choice newspapers, Kurachka had 
become a changed man. The spirit of Esau had entered into 
him. He was always coming with another piece of news: a 



341 


A Country Passover 

new governor had been appointed, a new proclamation had 
been issued, a new decree had been announced about the 
Jews. And hearing this, the Jew Nachman felt heavy- 
hearted. A chill went through him, but he never let on that 
he was disturbed. He heard him out with a sm.le and1 showed 
him the palm of his hand, as though to say. When hair 

grows on this hand, then I’ll begin to worry. 

Let governors change, let ministers issue proclamations. 
What did Nachman Verebivker of Verebivka care about 

that? 

The living that Nachman Verebivker made was a fairly 

good one, though it did not compare to that of former 
When his grandfather Aryah was alive, times had been d 
ferent. Ah those times! Then all Verebivka, you might say, 
belonged to them. They owned a tavern, a store, a mill a 
granary. They had everything they wanted. But that «>' »»» 
ago Now they had lost all these things. No tavern, no store, 
o granary. Nothing, simply nothing. Bu, if that was so, you 
ask then why did he remain in Verebivka? We i, then, 
where else could he go? Should he go dig a hole for him 
self? Ifiie sold his home he would no, be a Verebivker any 
more. He would become an outcast a stranger. Th s way, a 

least he had a place he could call his own, a roof ov “ hls 
head a home of his own. And behind his house he had a 
garden. His wife and daughters worked the E^n 'tem- 
selves and all summer they had greens to eat and then po 
tatoes for the whole winter and into springy But you can 
live on potatoes alone. You have to have bread too, and 
bread there was none. So Nachman would take his stick 
and go through the countryside looking for something 
buy. He never came back empty-handed. Whatever God 
his way he bought-some scrap metal, a basket of millet, an 
old sack, a hide. The hide he would stretch, 
to Avrom-Eli the tanner in town. And from all f? 

transactions he either made ^ r, ^ c ° r °streleu," Nachman 
what happens in business. Kupetz KaK streie z, 



Sholom Aleichem 


342 


would say in Russian: “A businessman is like a hunter,” 
and Avrom-Eli the tanner, a man with a bluish nose, and 
fingers that looked as though they had been dipped in ink, 
laughed at him for being so coarsened by country living that 
even his jokes were now of peasant origin. 

Nachman agreed. He had become coarse. It was lucky 
that his grandfather could not see him now. What a man he 
had been! Also a giant of a man, but learned as well. He 
knew his prayers and all the Psalms by heart. Those men 
of old! And he, Nachman—what did he know? He could 
barely read his prayers; but that at least was something. His 
children would not know that much . . . 

When he looked at his children, growing up big and 
burly like himself, and unable to read or write, also like him¬ 
self, he grew sick at heart. And most of all was he saddened 
by the sight of his youngest child, his baby, a boy named 
Feitel, after his father, Feitel Verebivker. A fine, promising 
little boy, different from the others, smaller in build, more 
gentle and refined in appearance. A true child of Israel. And 
what a brain! Just one time, for the fun of it, they 
had shown him the letter aleph and the letter be is in 
a prayer book, and he never forgot which was which. And a 
child like that had to grow up in a village among calves and 
pigs, with Kurachka’s son Pedka as his playmate. Feitel and 
Pedka rode a broomstick together, pretending it was a horse. 
Together they chased cats, dug caves, amused themselves as 
small children will. When Nachman saw his favorite child 
playing with the peasant boy, his heart was heavy within him. 

Pedka was an alert child, too, the same age as Feitel, with 
a bright winning face and flaxen hair. They liked to be to¬ 
gether and would do anything in the world for each other. 
All winter long they remained indoors, close to the oven, 
but they longed for each other and often stood by the win¬ 
dow each hoping to see the other. But now the winter, the 
long dark winter, was past. The snow was gone. The sun 
shone. The wind had dried the earth. The grass sprouted. 



A Country Passover 


343 

And down below the hill the brook gurgled once more. The 
little calf spread its nostrils and took a deep breath. The 
rooster shut an eye and stood lost in thought. Everything was 
coming to life again everywhere. Everything was growing, 
rejoicing. It w'as Passover Eve. Neither Pedka nor Feitel could 
be kept at home any longer. They burst out into God s green 
world, took each other by the hand, and raced toward the 
hill which beckoned to them both, “Come, children, come. 
They leaped up toward the sunlight, which greeted them 
both, “Come, children, come.” And when they grew tired of 
running and leaping they sat down on God’s earth which 
knew neither Jew nor Gentile, but invited them both, 
equally: “Come to me, children, come . . 

There was so much to talk about after not having seen 
each other all winter. Feitel boasted to his friend that he 
knew almost the whole alphabet by heart. And Pedka 
boasted about his new whip. Then Feitel said that they were 
having their Passover Feast that very night. They had baked 
matzos for the whole eight days and they had wine too. “Do 
you remember, Pedka, that matzo I brought you last year. 
“Matzo?” said Pedka, and over his fair face there spread a 
broad smile, as he remembered. “Would you like to taste 
some matzo now, Pedka, fresh matzo?” What a question to 
ask. Would he like some matzo! “Then let’s go there, said 
Feitel, pointing to the green hill that beckoned to them. 
They climbed up the hill and stood enchanted, looking be¬ 
tween their outspread fingers at the rays of the sun, and then 
threw themselves on the earth, still damp but already fra¬ 
grant with the coming growth. Feitel reached inside his shirt 
and pulled out a fresh round white matzo punctured with 
rows of tiny holes. He broke the matzo in half and divided 
it with his friend, “Well, what do you think about it he 
asked. But what could Pedka say with his mouth full of 
matzo that crackled between his teeth and melted on his 
tongue like snow? One more minute and the matzo was 

gone. 



Sholom Aleichem 


344 


“Do you have any more?” asked Pedka, looking with his 
gray eyes into Feitel’s shirt, and licking his lips like a cat 
that had swallowed the butter. “Would you like some more? 
said Feitel, laughing and chewing his last crumbs, and look¬ 
ing at his friend out of mischievous black eyes. What a ques¬ 
tion! Would Pedka like more? “Then wait a while,” said 
Feitel, “next year you’ll get some more!” At this promise 
they both burst out laughing, and then without any signal, 
as if they had arranged it before, they threw themselves on 
the ground and rolled down hill faster and faster like two 
balls . . . 

On the other side of the hill they stood up and watched 
the farming brook, which ran off to the left, and they them¬ 
selves ran to the right farther and farther across the fields 
which were not yet green but gave promise of becoming 
green soon. They could not smell the grass itself yet, but 
there was an odor in the air of coming grass. They walked 
on and on without words, as though in a dream, over the 
soft, sweet-smelling earth under the kindly sun. They seemed 
to be flying rather than walking, flying together with the 
birds that soared overhead, dipping and rising in the open 
sky which God had created for all living creatures. 

Now they had come to the mill—the mill that belonged 
to the village mayor. Once it had belonged to Nachman 
Verebivker, but now it belonged to the mayor, a shrewd 
and rich man. He had tricked Nachman out of the mill 
and also a store he had once owned in the village. Usually 
at this time of the year the mill was turning, but now it 
stood still. There was no wind. Strange to have no wind in 
the early spring. For the boys this was a piece of good luck. 
Now they could examine the mill. There was plenty to see. 
They looked closely at the stones, the wheels, and finally sat 
down and began to talk, one of those conversations that has 
no beginning and no end. Feitel told Pedka all the wonders 
of the city, where his father had taken him once. He had 
gone to market, had seen stores, not one store as in Vere- 


345 


A Country Passover 


bivka, but many stores. Then in the evening they had gone 
to the synagogue, because it was the anniversary of his 
grandfather's death. “Do you understand, Pedka, or don’t 

you?” 

Perhaps Pedka understood, but he wasn’t listening. Sud¬ 
denly he dove in with a story of his own. He told Feitel how 
last year he had seen a bird’s nest high up in a tree, how he 
had tried to climb the tree but couldn’t, how he tried to 
reach it with a stick, but it was too high and finally how he 
had started to throw stones at the nest, and kept on throw¬ 
ing them until he knocked down two small bleeding birds. 

“Were they dead?” asked Feitel, incredulous, frightened. 

“But they were so small,” Pedka defended himself. 

“But you killed them?” 

“They had no feathers yet, they were nothing but tiny birds 
with yellow bills and round little bellies. 

“But you killed them. You killed them. 

It was quite late when the two young comrades saw by 
the sun that it was time to go home. Feitel had forgotten all 
about the holiday that night and he suddenly remembered 
that his mother still had to wash his head and put new 
clothes on him. He jumped up, with Pedka after him, and 
together they started for home, running and leaping with 
the same joy and eagerness with which they had started out 
hours ago. And so that neither one should be left behind 
they took each other by the hand like true comrades and 
began to run toward the village as fast as they could. And 

when they arrived this is what they saw. 

Nachman Verebivker’s house was surrounded by all the 
people of the village. Kurachka, the clerk; Aponas, the 
mayor; the constable; the inspector; the sheriff—all the offi¬ 
cials were there. Everybody was talking at once. Nachman 
and his wife stood in the middle of the crowd explaining, 
defending themselves, making all sorts of motions with their 
hands. Nachman stood with his shoulders bent, trying 
to make himself less conspicuous, wiping the sweat from his 



Sholom Aleichem 

brow. Near by stood the older children with frightened faces. 
Suddenly the whole picture changed. Someone pointed at the 
two boys and the whole crowd—the clerk, the mayor, the 
police officers, all stood open-mouthed. Only Nachman 
looked over the crowd, straightened his broad shoulders, 
cried out, “Well?” and burst out laughing. His wife clapped 
her hands together and burst out crying. 

The mayor, the constable, the inspector, the sheriff all 
stepped out of the crowd and turned to the boys. 

“Where were you all this time, you . . . you . . .” 

“Where were we? We were at the mill, that’s where we 

were.” 

Both boys, Feitel and Pedka, got what they had coming 
and neither understood why. Feitel’s father gave him a good 
beating so that he’d know better next time. But what should 
he know next time? And apparently out of pity his mother 
took him away from his father, gave him a few cuffs of her 
own and quickly began to wash his head for the holiday. 
Then she put on his new pants, his only new clothes for 
Passover, and as she did so she sighed. Why did she sigh? 
Feitel could not understand. But a little later he heard her 
say to his father, “Ah, if Pesach were only over already. I 
hope it goes by without trouble. For my part it could have 
gone by before it started.” Feitel racked his brain but he 
could not understand why she wanted the holiday to be over 
before it had started. He couldn’t understand his father’s 
whipping or his mother’s cuffs. What kind of Passover Eve 
was this? 

Pedka understood as little as Feitel did. First of all his fa¬ 
ther Kurachka had grabbed him by the hair, swung him 
around savagely and given him a resounding slap for good 
measure. Pedka accepted the slaps like a philosopher. He was 
accustomed to them. A little later he heard his mother talk¬ 
ing with the other peasant women. Such queer stories they 


347 


A Country Passover 


told' There was one about a child who had been lured into 
a cellar by some Jews on the eve of Passover. They kept 
him there a day and a night and were just about to begin 
torturing him when people heard the screams of the child, 
came running from all directions, and rescued him. H,s 
body had already been pierced on four sides in the sign of 
the cross. The woman who told the story was a heavy, red- 
faced, blustering creature in a wide headdress. The other 
women in their brightly colored kerchiefs, stood around her 
in a circle, listening to the story, shaking their heads and 
crossing themselves. “Poor child,” they said, “Poor litt e 
thing.” And some of the women looked at him—at Pedka. 
And Pedka couldn’t understand why they looked at him so 
strangely and what the story had to do with him and with 
Feitel. He could not understand why his father Kurachka 
had pulled him by the hair and slapped him in the bar " 
gain He didn’t enjoy hair pullings and slaps, but they didn t 
bother him too much. What did bother him was the reason 
for these things. Why—on this day of all days. Why. 

“Well?” Feitel heard his father say joyfully to his mother 
the morning after Passover, as though some great good for¬ 
tune had come to him. “You were afraid, just like a woman. 
Our Passover is gone, their Passover is gone, and nothing 


has happened.” c .. . 

“God be thanked,” his mother answered, and still Pettel 

did not understand what his mother had been afraid of And 
why they were so happy that Passover was gone Wouldnt . 
have been much better if it had lasted and lasted. Th, 
afternoon when Feitel met Pedka outdoors he blurted every¬ 
thing out. He told how they had celebrated Passover and 
what good things they had to eat, and he described what all 
the good Passover dishes tasted like, and how sweet the 
wine was that they had drunk. Pedka listened solemnly, then 
looked inside Feitel's blouse. He was still dreaming abou 
the matzo he had tasted the other day. Suddenly a shn 
voice was heard calling, “Hvedka—H-vedka!” 



348 


Sliolom Aleiehem 

That was Pedka’s mother calling him for dinner. But he 
was in no hurry. This time he wouldn’t have his hair pulled. 
In the first place they were not at the mill. And in the sec¬ 
ond place it was “after Passover.” After Passover they did 
not have to be afraid of the Jews. And he lay on the grass on 
his stomach with his flaxen head between his hands and op¬ 
posite him lay Feitel also on his stomach with his dark head 
between his hands. The sky was blue, the sun was warm and 
a soft breeze played about their heads. The calf stood 
nearby and so did the rooster with all his wives. And the 
two young heads, the fair one and the dark one, were 
propped up facing each other and the boys talked and talked 

and talked . . . 

Nachman was not at home. Early in the morning with his 
stick in his hand he had gone out over the countryside look¬ 
ing for something to buy. He stopped at every house. He 
greeted each peasant with a friendly good morning, calling 
each one by name, and talked about everything under the 
sun except what had happened the day before Passover 
and the terror that had lasted all through Passover. And be¬ 
fore leaving he touched the peasant’s wagon. “Do you have 
something you don’t need, neighbor?” 

“Nothing, Lachman.” 

“Some metal, millet, anything at all? A skin maybe?” 

“Believe me, Lachman, I don’t have a thing. Times are 
hard.” 

“Hard? You must have drunk everything up. A holiday 
like that.” 

“I—drink—on a holiday? These are hard times, I tell 
you.” 

The peasant sighed and Nachman sighed with him. Then 
they talked about other things so that it wouldn’t look as if 
he had come to buy anything. 

From this peasant’s house he went to that of another and 
then to a third, till at last he found something, so that he 
shouldn’t have to come home empty-handed. 



349 


A Country Passover 


Nachman Verebivker, loaded down and sweating, hurried 
home with his long strides and thought of only one thing: 
how much could he earn, how much could he lose . . 

He had completely forgotten the Passover incident. He 
had completely forgotten the Passover terror. And Kur- 
achka and his governors and his decrees had fled his min . 
He had forgotten about them completely. 

Let the winds blow. Let the storms rage. Let the world 
turn upside down. An old oak that has been standing since 
the beginning of time whose roots are sunk deep m 
earth cares nothing about winds. He pays no heed 

storms . . . 



THE LOTTERY TICKET 


Benyomchik—that boy of mine—is a regular lottery ticket.” 

That is the way Yisroel, the shammes at the old synagogue, 
described his young son, Benjamin, who was known in our 
town as a promising lad when he was still a pupil in Yarach- 
miel-Moishe’s cheder. Yarachmiel-Moishe could not praise 
him highly enough. 

“Your youngster,” he said to Yisroel the shammes one 
morning in the synagogue, “is one of the best boys I have. 
He is a hard worker—a very hard worker. And the under¬ 
standing he has! The memory! Oh-ho!” 

The “Oh-ho” Yarachmiel-Moishe sang out with such en¬ 
thusiasm that Yisroel the shammes glowed with pride. 

“May God grant you health and fortune for these words,” 
Yisroel said to the teacher and helped him put away his 
tall is and t fill in. This he did out of gratitude for the teacher’s 
praise of his son. For the lessons the boy received Yisroel 
paid the same amount that all the other parents did—two 
rubles a quarter besides the usual presents at Hannukah and 
Purim, although Yisroel supported his own family on little 
more than the Hannukah and Purim gifts that others gave 
him. 

Afterwards, when Benyomchik had gone through all of 
Yarachmiel-Moishe’s classes, Yisroel the shammes wanted 


The Lottery Ticket 


351 


very much to send him to Eli-Maier, the Gamorah teacher, 
but Eli-Maier would not take him. In the first place, hi* 
school was already full. In the second place, Yisroel coulc 
not begin to pay what the well-to-do householders did. Sc 
Benyomchik did what many other boys do. If they have noth- 
in a to pay with, they study by themselves. That’s what we 
ha°ve a large synagogue for, with a lot of bookstands, and 
candle-ends salvaged from memorials for the dead, and 
books—all the books one needs: Bibles, the tracts and com¬ 
mentaries, and whatnot. If a person only wants to, he can 
study anywhere, even in an attic. Do you know how many 
great people, scholars of renown, grew up among us that 
way, bent over tiny candle-ends in the synagogue? And how 
many more we might have had by now—holy men of genius. 


Talmudists and Kabalists—wc cannot even guess. 

But something happened: in the last forty or fifty years a 
ray of worldly light has stolen into our corner of the earth 
and has reached even into our very synagogues, even there 
where the impoverished lads sat with their tomes. There you 
found them secretly snatching their first taste of secular oo , 
some rhetoric as an appetizer, then swallowing—or choking 
over-a Russian grammar, with maybe a few chapters of a 
novel for dessert. From studies like these, naturally, no Tal¬ 
mudic scholars or famous rabbis emerged. Instead, Jewish 
youths wandered off into the world and were ruined be¬ 
came doctors, lawyers, writers of prose and verse, teachers 
—and plain non-believers. Not a single rabbi who was worth 
anything. That is, there were a number of rabbis. But w a 
kind? Crown rabbis wished onto us by the czar, whether we 
wanted them or not. As if he had said, “Here is a loaded 
bomb; hold on to it.” But let us proceed • • • 

Benyomchik did not study in the synagogue a 1 ‘ alone ‘ ™ 
had two companions, penniless boys like himself, and that 

was how the trouble started. One man by himself cannot d 
wrong as easily as he can with others. It was alwaysjth* 
way. Look at Adam. So long as he walked in the Garden 
alone, all was still and heavenly. But as soon as Mother Eve 



Sholom Aleicliem 


352 


appeared, all was changed. She talked him into eating of 
the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and who knows what 
more she would not have done if they had not been driven 
out in time? 

It was the same with Benjamin. If Benjamin had sat alone 
in the synagogue, all would have been well. But he studied 
together with these comrades, boys as naked and barefoot, as 
hungry and thirsty as himself; and together they longed for 
the large, bright world, the world of wisdom and knowl¬ 
edge. They sat at the table, bent over the yellowed pages, but 
their thoughts were far away, among the great of the earth, 
among the learned ones, the fortunate ones. It pulled and 
dragged at them like a magnet—this outside world. So was 
it strange that one Saturday night three boys left their study 
table in the synagogue—Itzik, Yossil and Benyomchik—and 
disappeared? They were hunted everywhere, all over town, 
in every corner and hole, but they were gone without a trace. 
Well, the other two lads, Itzik and Yossil, were waifs, orphans 
without father or mother. Whom did they run away from? 
But Benyomchik! Yisroel the shammes turned the town up¬ 
side down, searched everywhere, and calmed down only on 
the following day, when a letter came from the three boys, 
asking everybody not to worry; they were, bless the Lord, 
safe and sound. They had become aware (that is how they 
wrote) that here in the synagogue there was no future for 
them, and therefore they had gone off to attend a seminary, 
a yeshiva, in Vilna or Volozhin or Mir. They had cleverly 
listed all three seminaries so that no one should know where 
to go and look for them. 

But all that was unnecessary. No one ran after them. The 
town itself was in fact happy about it. In the first place, it 
meant that there would be two or three fewer people to 
keep alive—you could not let them starve to death. And in 
the second place, it was such a fine thing to see poor boys 
who wanted to become educated. If all the others in the town 
could only have done it, they would have gone off some- 


353 


The Lottery Ticket 


where too, rather than stay here and struggle for a living. 

Whatever happened to the two other lads—Itzik and Yos- 
sil—no one knows, but after about six months Yisroel the 
shammes got a letter from Benyomchik—not from Volozhin, 
not from Vilna and not from Mir, but from another large 
city. He told them not to worry because at last he was on 
the right path, some day he would amount to something if 
only, with the help of God, he succeeded in passing his ex¬ 
aminations to enter the gymnasium. He wanted to prepare 
himself for the study of medicine and when he became a 
doctor he would be able to make a good living and could 
then support his father and mother in their old age. His 
father would not have to work so hard any more, being a 

shammes, and his mother a shammeste. 

“And there is one thing, my dear and loyal parents,” he 
wrote, “that you must never worry about. A person can have 
all the education there is and still remember his debt to 
God. I want you to know that I pray every day, that I use 
the t fill in, and wash before meals and say grace before and 
after I eat—that is, when there is something to eat. Usually 
we eat every other day, sometimes a piece of dry bread 
alone and sometimes dry bread with salt water. And when 
there is nothing at all, we suck a piece of sugar. Sugar is a 
remedy for hunger, it drives away the appetite. But there is 
something besides food, and that we have in plenty! Don t 
forget: we have four grammar texts to go through, and geog¬ 
raphy and history, and how many other things! Mathematics 
we won’t even talk about. That is too simple. When we 
were still home we used to study algebra in the synagogue, 
and the rhetoric books we devoured in those days help us 
now when we have compositions to write. There is only one 
thing wrong: we have so far not been able to correct our 
accent altogether. But that will be done in time. So don t 
worry; everything will turn out all right. The imporan 
thing is not to become discouraged. We must have fait in 

the Eternal.” 



354 


Sholom Aleichem 

When Yisroel the shammes received this letter he went 

at once to Yarachmiel-Moishe the melamed, an old colleague, 

an honest man and a confidant. 

“Do me a favor,” he said. “Read this letter through and 

answer it. I could have written to him myself, but I am sure 

you can do it better.” 

Yarachmiel-Moishe the melamed knew very well that the 
shammes was telling a big lie, but you can t make it appear 
that you know. So he took out his glasses and put them on 
his nose—a strange pair of glasses, held together by a piece 
of wire and two pieces of string; lenses there were none— 
one frame was covered with a circular piece of tin and the 

other was empty, just a hole. 

Yisroel could not resist asking, “What good are these 
glasses, Rabbi? Can you see anything with them?” 

“They’re better than nothing, and besides. I’m used to 
them,” Yarachmiel-Moishe answered, and held the letter off 
at a distance, one eye (the one behind the tin) closed; and 
with the other he read like water going over a dam, in a 
loud clear voice, stopping every so often to look at Yisroel 
as if to say, “How is that for reading?” And Yisroel stood 
by, his head a little to one side, beaming with joy, as if to 
say, “And the letter itself—how is that for writing?” 

And when Yarachmiel-Moishe took off his glasses and 
gave him the letter back again, Yisroel asked, “Well, Rabbi, 
what do you think of it?” 

“What can I tell you? It’s good. It’s very good. He says 
that he prays every day, with his tfxllin too. May it be no 
worse in the future.” 

“What I meant was that he is growing up. My Benyom- 
chik is becoming something,” said Yisroel. At the tip of his 
tongue were other words but he was afraid to use them— 
words like “ gymnasium ,” “examinations,” and finally “doc¬ 
tor” itself. So he said, “I’m wondering what to think about 
it. You said that he was studying to be a—doctor? What do 
you think of that? What is your opinion. Rabbi? You’re a 
man of experience.” 



355 


The Lottery Ticket 


Yarachmiel-Moishe knows that he is a man of experience, 
but what can he say? Naturally, if it were up to him, he 
would not have let him study in the gymnasium. What does 
a man like Yisroel want to have a son in the gymnasium 
for? And studying to be a doctor! But he wants advice . . . 

Yarachmiel-Moishe looks with glazed eyes at the wall and 
sighs. The shammes understands what the sigh means; he 
feels a little like that himself, he is not too well pleased with 
the gymnasium. If it were only a yeshiva . . . And yet, 
there was the other side too: his son, Benyomchik a doc¬ 
tor! 

“But, Rabbi, he says he is not forgetting. He prays every 
day. He is still one of us.” 

And then, after another pause: “Rabbi, I asked you to do 
me a favor. Won’t you answer the letter? And another 
thing, Rabbi. You know our town. People love to talk. So I 
want to ask you: keep it to yourself. You understand? 

“I understand. Of course I understand,” said Yarachmiel- 
Moishe, and once more saddling his nose with the strange 
glasses, he took a piece of paper, pen and ink, dipped the 
pen into the ink, and waited for the shammes to tell him 

what to write. 

“Tell him this,” says the shammes, and dictates: 

“To my beloved son, Benjamin. To begin with I want to 
tell you that we are all, bless the Lord, in the best of health, 
and may we hear no worse from you now or in the future, 
Amen. And secondly, tell him that Simma, my wife, and 1 
send our friendliest greetings and ask him to write to us 
frequently, let us know how he is getting along, and tell 
him that we wish him all the luck in the world and that 
he should succeed in his work, and tell him not to worry. 
God is our father. The main thing is that he should take care 
of himself, in his health and in his habits and in his pray¬ 
ers: he should remember that he is a Jew. That is the main 
thing, and tell him that I am sending him a ruble, a ruble 
I’m sending him” (here the shammes feels through all his 
pockets) “and tell him that I would have sent more if I had 



Sholorn Aleichem 


356 


it, but right now conditions are very bad. I am not earning a 
thing; no one is dying and no one is getting married and 
no one is having children. And what else do I make a penny 
from? I don’t remember when there has been a wedding, not 
one since Reb Hersh married off his youngest daughter. That 
is, a few weddings there have been, but I am speaking of 
real weddings, weddings worth mentioning . . .” 

“Sh-h . . . don’t rush like that,” says the teacher. ‘‘You’re 
pounding away like a post horse. I can’t catch up to you . . . 
Mmmmmm. Well. What next?” 

“And tell him further . . . that there is nothing to say. 
And tell him that I send him my friendliest regards, and 
Simma, his mother, sends her friendliest regards, and all his 
sisters too, Pessil and Sossil and Brochele. And remind him 
to be sure to remember that he is a Jew, not to forget the 
synagogue. That is the main thing. And when you’re 
through. I’ll sign my name to it.” 

When the teacher had written all this down, Yisroel the 
shammes rolled up his sleeve, took the pen carefully with 
two fingers and prepared himself for the delicate operation. 
He spelled out his own name carefully—Y-i-s-r-o-e-1—and 
the name of his father—N-a-f-t-o-l-i—and the family name 
—R-i-t-e-l-m-a-n. And while he wrote, his tongue moved 
from side to side, following his fingers from right to left 
and from left to right. 

It is to be understood that it did not take long for people 
all over town to learn the secret, that Yisroel the shammes’ 
young son was studying, or getting ready to study, to be a 
doctor. And this did not hurt Yisroel in the least, though 
there were some people who teased him: 

“So you’re going to have a doctor in the family—going 
around bareheaded? With brass buttons, maybe, like a state 
official? How will that look, Yisroel? I mean for you—like 
a hen that hatches ducklings . . .” 

Yisroel the shammes let them talk, and himself said noth¬ 
ing. But deep in his heart he thought: “Laugh, laugh at my 
Benyomchik! He’s still my lottery ticket!” 



357 


The Lottery Ticket 


One day—it was Passover Eve—Simma the shammeste and 
her three daughters, Pessil, Sossil and Brochele, were clean¬ 
ing up for the holiday, when the door opened, and in came 
a striking young man in a coat with white buttons and an 
odd-looking cap on his head. He fell on Simma s neck and 
then on the three girls, hugging and kissing and squeezing 

them. 

The young man was Benjamin. 

Simma was so happy she burst out crying. And Yisroel 
hurried in, frightened and out of breath. He shouted at his 
wife, “Stop crying, will you! Look how upset she is! Do you 

know what you're crying about?” 

But when he himself had looked the boy over and seen 
how much he had grown and changed, he almost began to 

cry too. But a man does not do such things. 

“When did you get here?” he asked his son. “Turn around, 
let me see what you look like from the back. What kind of 
suit is that? Take off your coat—why don’t you take off your 

coat?” J . 

And when Benjamin took off his coat and stood there in 

his blue uniform with silver buttons—his cheeks rosy and 

his eyes shining—he charmed not only the rest of the family, 

but everyone who saw him. “What do you think of Yisroel- 

the-sharnmes’ son?” they said. “How he has grown! What a 

fine-looking boy he is!” And Mintzi, the neighbor s daughter, 

a girl of nineteen with black eyes and a heavy black braid 

tied with a red ribbon that suited her so well, came in to see 

if Simma had an extra pot that she could borrow, although 

she knew very well that in all her life Simma had never had 

an extra pot. But it gave her a chance to see Benjamin close 

up, to glance at him with her lively black eyes and to toss 

her head with the thick black braid and the bright red n - 

bon—it gave her a chance to turn around and run off, and 

a little later to come back again under another pretext, un 

Benjamin’s three sisters looked at each other as if to say: 

“How do you like the way she runs in and out. 

In the meantime Benjamin called his mother aside. Here 



358 


Sholom Aleichem 

is something for Pesach ” he said, and pushed some money 
into her hand. Poor Simma! She had never held so much 
money before in all her life! And for the girls he had 
presents and presents—ribbons and combs and mirrors and 
trinkets without number! And for his mother a silk shawl, a 
yellow one with red and blue flowers. And once more 
Simma the shammeste burst out crying. 

And Yisroel asked with a laugh, “What’s all this? How 

did you ever get so much money, my boy?” 

“Why shouldn’t I have money?” asks Benjamin, proudly. 
“I’m earning money now, bless the Lord. Eight rubles a 
month. I’m a tutor. I have a few children to teach and I get 
paid for it. I’m in the fifth class at the gymnasium. There are 
eight classes altogether, so in three more years I’ll be 
through. And then—the university, to study medicine.” 

Benjamin talks and talks, and they all stand around him. 
They can’t take their eyes off him, and they think, “Can that 
really be Benjamin? That barefoot Benyomchik who used to 
spend all his time in the synagogue, studying? Eight rubles 
a month . . . eight classes ... a silk shawl . . . the uni¬ 
versity . . . doctor . . . 

The Lord alone knows if anyone else had such a happy 
Passover, such a cheerful seder, that year. And I am not talk¬ 
ing about the wine, or the brandy, or the fish, or the dump¬ 
lings, or the pudding. I am speaking now of the Hagadah, 
the Passover ceremonial, that Yisroel and Benjamin both 
chanted, one louder than the other. It was wonderful to listen 
to! When they came to "Rabbi Eleazer omer, minayin shekol 
mako umako," and the men both began to sway with a new 
vigor and struck up a louder tone, Simma, who had been 
sitting all the time with her eyes on Benjamin, suddenly 
began to pucker up her lips as if to cry, and the three sisters, 
Pessil and Sossil and Brochele, seeing her, could control 
themselves no longer and began to laugh; and seeing them, 
the others began to laugh too, even Simma herself . . . Ah, 
what a Passover that was! You can well imagine! 

The next morning, the first day of Passover, when Ben- 



359 


The Lottery Ticket 


jamin came to the synagogue, everybody gaped at the boy in 
the student’s uniform with the silver buttons as if he were 
a strange animal from the jungle. The smallest boys, full of 
mischief, crowded around him and pointed at him with their 
fingers and laughed right in his face. But Benjamin stood all 
the time with his small prayerbook in his hand and prayed. 
And when he was called up to the Torah (Reb Monish, the 
gabai, arranged it in order to please Yisroel) and Benjamin 
recited the benediction in a loud clear tone with an accent 
and an emphasis that one saved for the holidays, the whole 
synagogue was agog with wonder: “What do you think about 


Yisroel’s young scholar?” 

And when they were all ready to leave the synagogue, the 
rich man of the village, Reb Hersh, turned to the shammes. 
“Yisroel,” Reb Hersh said broadly, as a rich man does when 
he speaks to one of the lesser creatures, looking a little to 
one side and clearing his throat and nose in a double cough, 
■‘Yisroel, ah-h, come here, hm-m, with that young man of 

yours. Let me—hm-m—take a look at him.” 

Hearing that Reb Hersh wanted to talk to Yisroel-th - 
shammes “young scholar” the crowd gathered around to hear 
what the rich man would say and what «he other would 
answer. Benjamin approached Reb Hersh as if he were an 
equal, not at all self-consciously, greeted him like an ac¬ 
quaintance of old, and Reb Hersh looked him over from 
head to foot, no. quite knowing how to start. Should he^d; 
dress him in the respectful plural-a child , ‘^ ‘ n nf L 

would be showing too much respect for e 
shammes. And yet, to use the singular, to say dm as you 
might say “Hey, there . . ."-maybe that would not be r gh. 
cither. After all, he was a gymnasium student with silver 
buttons, he looked almost like a young prince . . . So. at last 
he spoke to him neither one way nor theother- but vaguely 
and impersonally: “How are things? When did the visitor 

come? When is he going back? he 

Benjamin put his right foot forward. With.one hand he 

toyed with a button at his chest, with the other he stroked 



Sholom Aleichem 


360 


his upper lip. And he answered every question—confidently, 
without any shame or hesitation. Reb Hersh liked it—and 
yet he did not like it. “Not a foolish lad at all, but he 
doesn’t know his place.” And he became involved in a broad 
discussion about his school: “How many classes are there? 
What is the significance of eight classes? Why not nine? 
And what is the difference between one class and another?” 

And Benjamin thought: “He looks so important, and yet 
he is such an ox!” And he gave him to understand what 
the difference was between one class and another. Reb Hersh 
did not like this at all, having a child explaining things to 
him, and making it sound so simple that it needed no ex¬ 
planation. He said, “Why, everybody knows that. But what 
is the sense of having eight classes instead of nine?” 

“Simply because if there were nine classes, you would say: 
Why should there be nine and not ten?” 

At this the crowd begins to laugh, that is, everybody 
laughs except Reb Hersh. He thinks: “A tramp—that’s all he 
is.” And with his double cough he says, “Hm-m. It’s time to 
go home. Hm-m . . 

If you did not see Yisroel the shcimmes then, standing a 
little to one side, looking from one to the other and swal¬ 
lowing each word of Benjamin’s, you have never seen a 
happy and fortunate man. He was waiting for Reb Hersh to 
stop questioning his son so he could take him home, where 
the women were waiting anxiously. On the table, the fresh 
crisp matzos were also waiting, and in the oven a delicious 
Passover borsht was simmering, and hot kneidlach with 
chicken fat, and maybe even a potato pudding! And at last 
when Reb Hersh had coughed his double cough again and 
gone off with a few of his close friends, Yisroel the 
shammes invited his one and only good friend and confidant, 
Yarachmiel-Moishe the teacher, to come along with them, as 
the others had gone with Reb Hersh, for a glass of wine. 
And when they arrived he poured out for the old teacher a 
glass of genuine raisin wine, and Simma brought in such 
wonderful chremzlach that it would have been hard even for 



361 


The Lottery Ticket 


an epicure to tell if there was more honey in them or more 
chicken fat, because they were so sugary and so rich that they 
stuck to the gums and ran down his beard. Yarachmiel- 
Moishe, a quiet man, who rarely said a word, now at the 
first glass of genuine raisin wine found his head whirling 
round and his tongue running loose and wild. He called 
Beniamin over to him, and put him through a quick but 
thorough examination of the Scriptures and commentaries 

that he had once studied in his cheder. 

Beniamin remembered not only the Scriptures, but the 
commentaries as well, so thoroughly that Yisroel the 
sha,rimes' heart almost burst with pleasure. He followed the 
teacher out through the door. "What do you think of him. 


he asked. , ...... 

“A perfect vessel—a saint!” answered Yarachmiel-Moishe, 

puckering his lips and shaking his head. 

“But a Jew all the same? He hasn’t forgotten that? said 

the shammes, and watched the teacher’s eyes for the answer. 

“With God’s help,” said the teacher. 

“A lottery ticket! A lottery ticket! Do you agree with 


me 


9 ” 


At this Yarachmiel-Moishe tossed his head—it was hard to 

tell if it was a nod or a shake-blinked his eyes and made a 

gesture with his hands that meant that he thought the boy 

either was, or was not, a lottery ticket. 

“A good day!” he cried, and once more kissed the mazuza. 

“May God keep us alive and well another year, and may 
come to each other in joy-for your daughters weddings and 
then your son’s-and may the Jews have some relief from al 
their troubles, may there be good news for a I of us, it s 
time that God had mercy on us, improved our lot, lightened 
our load ... And may all things be good everywhere, and 

cheer in every heart. And ah ... 

Yarachmiel-Moishe himself did not know what more he 

wanted. It seemed as if he had already poured out everything 

that was on his mind. He stood with h.s tongue out, unable 

to say one thing or another ... Yet how can a man go 



362 


Sholom Aleichem 

away like this, without a word of farewell of any kind? 
Fortunately he remembered one more thing: 

“And may—may the Messiah come soon!” 

“Amen!” answers Yisroel the sharnmes, and in his heart 
he thinks: First let my Benjamin graduate as a doctor. And 
then let the Messiah come. 

As cheerful and bright as everything was at Yisroel the 
sharnmes’ when Benjamin arrived, so was it dark and gloomy 
when he went away again. 

And the three years passed, the three years before Ben¬ 
jamin could enter the university. It was not an easy time. 
Yisroel the sharnmes experienced one trouble after another at 
home, and his son Benjamin over there in the city. Many a 
night Yisroel could not fall asleep here, and Benjamin his 
son there. Yisroel could not sleep because he kept thinking 
of the difficult time Benjamin had, of all the hard work he 
had to do. And Benjamin could not sleep because he was 
getting ready for his examinations. 

“If God helps me and I pass my examinations,” Benjamin 
wrote home, “I’ll come to see you again, my dear and faith¬ 
ful ones, and be with you all summer to rest my bones.” 

And Yisroel the sharnmes waited for the good news of the 
examination as a pious Jew waits for the Messiah. 

At last summer came, but Benjamin did not. His letters 
began to come less and less often, and as time went on they 
became shorter and more gloomy. All he ever said was that 
on such and such a day he would have to take this or that 
examination. 

“The next examination,” wrote Benjamin in his last letter, 
■“is my Day of Judgment, because if I get less than a ninety- 
four I shall not be able to get in, and if I can’t get in now 
I shall have to stay over another year. And who knows what 
will happen next year? Maybe next year it will be even 
worse. What will I do then? What will happen to me? Why 
did I ever have to work so hard, wear myself out like this? 
Study so hard, starve day after day, freeze in unheated rooms 



The Lottery Ticket 


363 

and spend so many sleepless nights? I am not the only one 
to ask these questions. There are many others like me— 
Jewish boys—who stayed over from last year and can t get 
in because their average is not quite high enough. I don’t 
know what I shall do . . .” 

Yisroel the shammes went around in a daze. He could not 
understand why Benjamin’s letters suddenly should have be¬ 
come so melancholy. He asked Yarachmiel-Moishe to write 
to Benjamin and ask him what he meant by “average and 
“ninety-four.” In short, he asked Benjamin to write and ex¬ 
plain everything, and not to worry, but rely on the Eternal 
One who could do everything. And the main thing still was 
that he should remember he was a Jew, and if the Lord 

willed, all would be well ... 

Bui this letter was never answered, and neither were all 

the others that Yisroel sent later. But he kept writing and 

writing, until at last, ashamed to come again to Yarachmiel- 

Moishe, he gave up writing. 

•‘What can be the matter?” Simma asked her husband. 

"There has been no letter for such a long time.” 

And she got an answer: "What do you expect? Is that all 

he has to do? Write letters? Wait a little. Let him finis 
his examinations, whatever they are, and then hell write. 

But Yisroel himself went around with a heavy heart and 
low spirits. He could not find a place to turn. What went 
through his head during those days, may no other father ever 
know. And his dreams every night were frightful and horri¬ 
ble, with black canopies, black candles, everything black . . • 

Have you ever heard of Lemel the starosta? Or is this the 
first time you have heard his name? In addition to being the 
siarosta, the mayor, a man of substance and influence, what 
in plain Yiddish we refer to as a soup-ladle, right here in 
town, he was also a power of some sort in the P rovin '= , *‘ 
capital, knew all the important people, dealt with them was 
intimate with them. Whenever he comes to the capital he 
says, he never knows where to go first. Everybody wants to 



364 


Sholom Aleichem 

drag him off to himself. “Pan Lemel!” shout the Poles. 

“Gospodin Lemel!” plead the Russians. “Reb Lemel, you’re 
ours!” say the Jews. He simply does not know what to do! 
And every time that he comes back from the capital he has 
news to bring, something startling to talk about for the next 
three months. A sensational bankruptcy, a terrible fire, a mur¬ 
der to make your hair stand on end. And although Lemel s 
bankruptcies took place too often, his fires and murders al¬ 
most every week, it never occurred to anyone to contradict 
him. They knew he could not help it—he liked to talk, to 
tell stories, and if necessary, to make them up himself. 

So you can imagine what a time our starosta had when an 
envelope came to his office from the provincial capital with 
a document instructing him to remove from the rolls of the 
Jewish community the name of Benjamin, son of Yisroel 
Ritelman, because of the fact that he had assumed another 
faith. 

As soon as Lemel the starosta finished reading the message 
he forgot all his work and ran out into the street with thi 
paper, stopped everyone he saw, whispered the secret into 
each one’s ear, and soon had the story spread all over town. 

No doubt you have heard of the halcyon days. The skies 
are clear, there is no breeze, not a drop of rain, everything 
is quiet, serene. The people are asleep, the town itself looks 
dead. Suddenly, no one knows how or where, something ex¬ 
plodes, like a bomb from the sky, like an earthquake. The 
people awaken, start to run. They run this way and that. 
“What is it? Where? What happened?” 

The story of Yisroel-the-s/iammes’ son was like that 
bomb. It tore the town to pieces and woke up everybody. 
They were all as upset and excited as if this had to do with 
their own health or livelihood, as if this were the only thing 
they had to worry about. Some dropped their work, others 
left the table with their food untouched and went off to the 
marketplace to see what was going on. Around Reb Hersh’s 
house there stood a whole ring of people, and Reb Hersh 
himself stood by the porch in a gabardine and skullcap, sur- 



365 


The Lottery Ticket 


rounded by his kinsmen, intimate friends, acquaintances, to¬ 
tal strangers—men who catered to him, scraped and bowed 
and showed their respect for the man who might be able to 
do them a favor some time. Reb Hersh held forth and his 

followers echoed: 

“Of course! Naturally! That's right, Reb Hersh! 

And Reb Hersh went on: 

“A shammes, a ne'er-do-well, a pauper—and he wants to 
be better than anyone else! He has a son, so what does he 
have to become? A doctor. Nothing less. And if he became 
a shammes like his father, or, heaven spare us, a teacher, 
what would happen then? I’d like to hear what our shammes 
has to say now. Or maybe he doesn’t know yet. I don’t see 

him anywhere around? Where can he be? 

Where was he? There were some in the crowd who did 
not hesitate to hurry off to the synagogue to look for him. 
And some even went to his home, but they could not find 

him anywhere. . 

And the truth is that Yisroel knew nothing about it. At 

that moment, when all the town was in an uproar, Yisroel 

was sitting with his one and only good friend and confidant, 

Yarachmiel-Moishe the teacher. In the same mail that 

brought the document to the town hall there was a large 

envelope for Yisroel himself, and it was from his son. It was 

the longest letter that had ever come from Benjamin. With 

great difficulty he had read through a couple of pages but 

had understood little more than a word here and there. So he 

took it to Yarachmiel-Moishe. 

“It’s here!” he shouted from the doorway, with joy. 

“A letter from your son?” 

“And what a letter! It’s like a cushion!” 

When he heard these words, Yarachmiel-Moishe told his 
pupils to take a rest, and he himself put on the glasses we 
had seen before, and began to read the letter in a loud, clear 
voice, almost a chant. At the start all was well, but soon he 
began to halt and stutter, as if he were walking over pointed 
rocks. He came upon hard, strange words he had never 



Sholom Aleichem 000 

seen before. He had to set his glasses straight, he held the 
letter up to the window, shrugged his shoulders, chewed his 
words, muttered, “Hm-m . . . What language is this? Na¬ 
tion . . . emancipation . . . quota ... he s beginning to 

use strange words, that son of yours ...” 

Yisroel sat at the end of the table, holding his head in his 
hands, and looked only at Yarachmiel-Moishe, listened to 
every word, tried to catch the meaning—and made nothing 
of it. He could not begin to understand why suddenly Ben¬ 
jamin should have to defend himself, try to justify himself, 
insist with so many oaths that he was the same person as 
before, that what he had done was out of greater love and 
greater loyalty . . . Yisroel could not understand why he 
should be any different now, and why he should ask his 
forgiveness. What was there to forgive? “But it could not 
have been otherwise,” he wrote. “I have struggled so long 
with myself. 1 know the pain I am giving you, but the fight 
I have carried on since childhood for an education, my need, 
my desire for learning has become so great, so strong, that I 
finally yielded .” 

“What? What was that? Read it again, read it once more. 
What did he say?” 

Yarachmiel-Moishe adjusted his glasses to read it again, 
but just then the door was pushed open and in came Bassya- 
Hinda, the teacher’s wife, a tall gaunt woman with a sallow 
face, carrying a large market basket. In the basket were all 
sorts of good things—potatoes and onions, two black rad¬ 
ishes, a small piece of beef-lung that she had barely managed 
to coax from the butcher, because there are always customers 
by the hundred who want beef-lung. Women fight over it 
as men do over the greatest honors at the synagogue, and 
the reason is this: it costs so little and there are no bones in 
it, and if you cook it with potatoes and onions and a lot of 
pepper and it simmers long enough, it tastes quite well . . . 

Coming in and seeing the shammes sitting with her hus¬ 
band and reading something, Bassya-Hinda took a quick 
glance to see if the poor shammes knew already. But she 



367 


The Lottery Ticket 


could not tell from their faces, so she put the basket down, 
and while she wiped her face with her hand, winked at her 

husband. . 

“ ’Chmiel-Moishe, come here,” she said, and he, seeing that 

she wanted to say something to him, took off his glasses and 

excused himself for a minute. And there on the other side ol 

the doorway, this conversation took place between husban 

and wife: 

She: Does he know? 

He: Who? 

She: The shlimazl. 

He: Which shlimazl? 

She: The shammes. 

He: Know what? 

She: About his son. 

He: Which son? 

She: Benjamin. 

He: What about him? 

She: The whole town is full of it. 

He: Full of what? 


She: His son. 

He: But what about? 

She: Oh, you make me tired! 

The Lord knows how long this conversation would have 
dragged on, if at this point the shammes himself had not 
forced his way into the room and in a frightened voic , 
asked, “What-what are you saying? What did you say Ben¬ 
jamin did? What?” , i. 

Bassya-Hinda did not know what to do now. Why shou 

she be the one to tell him? Better send him straight to 

Lemel the starosta, let him take care of it himself. 

“Nothing," she said, wiping her face agam. What do) 
know? They say a paper came in. I don t know so g 

about your son.” 

‘‘What kind of paper?” 

“Something. In the town hall. 

“Who has it—the paper?” 



Sholom Aleichem 


368 


“The starosta." 

“What is it about?” 

“Your Benjamin. Something.” 

“What’s the matter with Benjamin?” he asked, this time 

angrily. “What happened to him?” 

“I should know? Ask me! Go over there, go to Lemel. 
He’s somewhere in the marketplace. He has the paper. 

Paper . . . Lemel ... the town hall . . . Benjamin . . . 
what did all this mean? Yisroel felt his cheeks grow hot 
and he heard a whistling in his ears. He pulled down his 
cap, bent over double, and stumbled out . . . 

There are people who love to watch a person in agony, 
who stare at him when he weeps, look after him when he 
follows a corpse at a funeral, stand by when he wrings his 
hands. I do not care for such scenes. Say what you will, I 
don’t like mournful pictures. My muse does not wear a black 
veil on her face. My muse is a poor—but cheerful one . . . 

Where did Yisroel run? Whom did he see? What did he 
hear? What did he say? Do not ask, it will give you no joy 
to know. What will you have gained, for instance, when you 
have learned that there were people who finally lived to 
have revenge on Yisroel the shammes, who had gone around 
so long showing off his lottery ticket? 

“He had it coming,” said Reb Hersh, with his peculiar 
double-cough, and stroked his paunch comfortably. “It should 
be a lesson for people. A pauper should be careful how he 
jumps in your face. A doctor he had to have . . .** 

Others, it is true, had pity on the shammes , “poor fellow” 
—and you know what that means. My grandfather Minda 
had a saying, “Look out for people who pity you, and God 
protect you from those who call you ‘poor fellow.’ ” 

So I won’t tell you what Yisroel did or whom he saw, but 
it was dusk when he turned in at his cottage, looking like 
a ghost. Entering without a word, he sat down on the ground, 
took off his boots, tore his shirt at the heart as one does for 
the dead, and prepared to sit in mourning for an hour, as 



369 


The Lottery Ticket 


one does at a time like that. Simma did the same, and so did 
the three sisters. Together they sat on the ground, moaning 

and weeping for the one they had lost. 

Later, when Yarachmiel-Moishe the teacher came to offer 
condolence, this is what he found: Yisroel silling with his 
head thrown forward between his knees. Simma with her 
hands covering her face and Pessil, Sossil and Brochele sit¬ 
ting with red swollen eyes, each one looking with expression¬ 
less face into a separate corner, as if in their shame and pain 


they could not face each other openly. 

He came into the house quietly without a greeting of any 
kind, as one does in a house of mourning, and slowly lower¬ 
ing himself to the edge of a bench at one side of the room 
sighed. That was all. He didn't say a word A little later, 

another sigh and again silence; and later st.ll a »gh «"“■ 

It was only after a while that he looked around and decided 
that it was not right to sit there and not say a word he 
ought to say something to comfort them. But w at was 
to say? When a family is in mourning because a person has 
died you can come to sit with them for a while, and say, 

■ The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Or, Man is 
after all, like a fly.” Or, "Death—that is something none of 
us can escape.” Or, “Vanity of vanities, all of us willd.e^ 
Or other such sayings that cannot make one especially happy 
but are still a comfort. If a person says something, get it 
off his chest, he feels a trifle better. But what can one say 
at a time like this, when it is a living P erso " ,h ^ aI . e 

mourning for? Yarachmiel-Moishe turned a little on hn 

bench with a shy cough, wanted to say so ™ ethl 8 \ „ 

words would not come. He tried a few different times til 

finally he started again and it worked. An not 
unable to stop, he did not know where or how to en ^ 1 ' 
“Ah, well, it’s the same story as always. What can you ca 
it-a trial from heaven, from the Lord. For everything 
from Him; without Him nothing is done, no h.ng occurs 
no, a finger here on earth is lifted. He is a real Mastt ^ 
us agree on that. Oh, what a Master! And we obey Him 



Sholom Aleichem 

how we obey Him! ... So it was decreed that this had to 
happen, exactly as it happened. And here is the proof: that 
if it did not have to happen this way, it would not have 
happened. But it did happen, so it must have been ordained. 
If He had wanted something else to happen, it would have 

happened the other way. It would have . . . 

Yarachmiel-Moishe began to feel that he did not know 
what he was saying, so he paused, took a pinch of snuff, low¬ 
ered his head to one side, and heaved a deep sigh. He told 
himself that it was time to go, but talking about going is an 
easy matter. How are you going to do it, though, if you are 
glued to the bench? There is no visit that is worse than one 
to a house of mourning. You are supposed to leave without 
a word of parting, without a sign or a look. But how can 
you do it? Yarachmiel-Moishe sat waiting for a miracle to 
happen. If only they would doze off a little so he could leave 
while they slept. Or if something happened outside, a riot, 
a fj re —anything—so he could escape in the excitement. He 
sat looking around at the ceiling, at the four walls, and then 
he said to himself: “It is time to think about going. The 
children will turn the cheder upside down . . 

When the hour was up, Yisroel and his family rose from 
the floor, quietly, without talking, put on their shoes and 
crawled off each to his own corner, to his own work. Yisroel 
rushed through his late-afternoon prayers and hurried off to 
the synagogue to be in time for evening services. After all, 
he was the shammes, his time was not his own. He had to 
be where he was needed. Work—that was the only remedy, 
the means of chasing all worries away, of forgetting aU 
troubles . . . 

In the synagogue a few busybodies came up to him. 

“What do you hear from your lottery ticket? How is your 
son getting along?” 

“A son? Have I got a son?” answered Yisroel with a bitter 
little smile. 

And seeing the bitterness and the ache in the smile, the 



The Lottery Ticket 


371 

meddlers retreated. All they had to do was look at his face 
and they did not want to talk to him any more about his son. 

What happened afterward? What became of Benjamin? 
Did he write any more letters? And what did he write? An 
did his father answer him? And if he answered, what did 
he say? Don’t press me with questions. I shall not say a 
word. I’ll tell you only that as far as Yisroel was concerned, 
there was no Benjamin any more anywhere. Benjamin was 
dead. In the lottery, Yisroel had drawn a blank. 



THE MIRACLE OF 
HASHONO RABO 


The miracle of Hashono Rabo —that was what we called the 
train wreck that almost took place on Hashono Rabo, the 
day when our judgment is sealed in Heaven, and our fate 
decided. And it happened right in my home town of Heissin. 
That is, not in the town itself, but a few stations away, at a 
place called Sobolivka. 

You who have ridden on the train in our region know 
what the service on the Straggler Special is like. When it 
reaches a station and stops, it forgets when to start again. 
According to the timetable, it has a definite schedule. For 
instance, at Zatkovitz it says that the train is supposed to 
stop exactly an hour and fifty-eight minutes; and at Sobolivka, 
the place I am now telling you about, not a second more 
than an hour and thirty-two minutes. But take my word for 
it, no matter where it stops—whether at Zatkovitz or at So¬ 
bolivka, it stands at least two, and sometimes more than 
three hours. It depends on how long the switching and fuel¬ 
ing take, and what switching and fueling mean to a train 
like the Straggler Special, I don’t have to tell you. 

First of all the locomotive has to be uncoupled, and then 
the train crew—the conductor, the engineer and the fireman 
—sit down together with the stationmaster, the guard and 



373 


The Miracle off Ilashono Rabo 


the telegraph operator, and drink beer—one bottle after an¬ 
other. 

And while these important operations, or maneuvers, are 
going on, what do the passengers do? You have seen what 
they do. They go crazy with boredom. Some yawn; some find 
themselves a corner and take a nap; and some walk back and 
forth on the platform, their hands clasped behind their backs, 

idly humming a tune. 

On the day that I am telling you about, while the Stragg 
was waiting in the station of Sobolivka, a man was seen 
standing nearby, his hands clasped behind his back, watch¬ 
ing He was not a passenger, simply an inquisitive onlooker, 
a resident of Sobolivka. And what was a Sobolivka house¬ 
holder doin S there? Nothing! It was Hashono Raho—z half 
holiday, the man had been at the synagogue already, had 
eaten already, and as it was a half holiday and there was 
nothing for him to do at home, he took h,s walking stick 
and went out for a walk to the station, to meet the train. 

Meeting the train, as you know, is an old custom in our 
part of the country. When the train is due, everyone who is 
not otherwise occupied, rushes off to the station Maybe 
they’ll see somebody there. See whom? See what. A man 
from Teplik? An old woman from Obodivka. A priest fr 
Golovonievska? In Sobolivka that's great exc,tement-and 
you go. And especially since in those days the train was still 

a novelty, there was always something new to see somc hin 8 
strange to hear. Anyway, on that special Hashono Kabo, 
whe/the fate of all of us had been sealed already, as I told 
you before, there stood the train at the station, uncoupled and 
waiting; and watching it with a mild curiosity, m a half 
holiday mood, stood a householder of Sobolivka with a suck 

U WeH "yoTmay say, what of that? What if a resident of 
Sobolivka stands and looks at an uncoupled locomonve^ L 
him stand and look! But no. It had to happen that on rtns 
dav amon° the waiting passengers, was a priest from Oo 
fovontevska, a village not far from Heissin. Having nothing 



Sholom Aleichem 


374 


to do, the priest walked back and forth on the same plat¬ 
form, his hands also clasped behind his back, and he also 
stopped to look at the locomotive. Seeing nothing unusual, 
he turned to the Sobolivker and said, “Tell me, Yudko, what 
is there to stare at?” 

The man answered crossly, “What do you mean Yudko? 
My name is not Yudko. My name is Berko.” 

So the priest said. “Let it be Berko. Well, tell me then, 
Berko, what are you looking at so seriously?” 

Without taking his eyes from the locomotive, the man 
answered, “I am standing here beholding the wonders of 
God. Think—a simple thing like that. You turn one screw 
this way, another screw that way, and this strange and terrify¬ 
ing machine moves off.” 

“How do you know that?” the priest asks him. “How do 
you know that if you turn one screw this way, another the 
other way, the machine will start?” 

Answers the man from Sobolivka, “If I didn’t know, would 
I have said so?” 

Says the priest, “What do you know? How to eat potato 
pudding? But this is not a pudding.” 

At this the man becomes angry (the people of Sobolivka 
are famous for their tempers), and he says, “Well then, my 
Father, maybe you’d care to climb up into the locomotive 
with me and have me show you what makes these things 
move and what makes them stop?” 

This did not sound so good to the priest. What was this 
little man trying to say? Was he going to tell him the prin¬ 
ciple whereby a locomotive moved or stood still? So he an¬ 
swered him sharply, “Go, Hershko. Climb up then.” 

As sharply the other corrected him, “My name is not 
Hershko. My name is Berko.” 

“All right,” said the priest. “Let it be Berko. So climb up, 
Berko.” 

“What do you mean—climb up? Why should I climb up? 
You can go first, Father.” 



375 


The Miracle of Hashono Rabo 


“You’re the teacher this time—not I,” says the priest, with 

some bitterness. “So lead the way. , , 

They argued, they bickered; the debate became heated, but 

in the end they both climbed up, and the Sobolivka house¬ 
holder began to instruct the priest in the workings of mod- 
ern machinery. Slowly he turned one handle siowly he 
turned another, and before they could say a smgle word, they 
were horrified to find that the locomotive had begun to move. 

And away it went! _, 

Now this is the best time, I think, to leave the two good 

men to themselves in the roaring locomotive, while we paus 

and consider who is this man of Sobolivka who was so bold 

and so brave that he dared to climb together with the priest 

into the locomotive ... , 

Berel Essigmacher-that was the name of the man, .m 

telling you about. And why did they call him Ess.gmacher 
Because his business was that of making vmegar-e»,g in 
Yiddish—the very best vinegar in our corner of ■ 

The business he had inherited from his father but he him 
self had invented a machine—so he says tha gav 
vinegar its distinctive and superior quality. If he on y h. 
the time, he could make enough vinegar to Provide for the 
needs of three whole provinces. But why should he? He 
didn’t have to. He wasn't that greedy. That's the kind of 

man this Essigmacher was. 

He had studied nowhere, and yet he could do he most 

delicate work you could imagine, and he. " n " S , 

workings of all kinds of engines. How did this happen. 

Well, all you had to remember, he explained, w '^'h 6 
manufacture of vinegar had much m common with that o 
whisky. Both were made in a distillery; and a U,! had al 
most the same machinery as a locomotive. A 
and so did a locomotive. What difference was there? The 
important thing-so said Berel himself and showed you what 

he meant with his hands-the importantth.ngw tfie 

power that came from the heat. You started, he explained. 



Sholom Aleichem 

by heating the boiler, and the boiler heated the water. The 
water turned to steam, the steam pushed a rod, and the rod 
turned the wheels. If you wanted to turn it right, you twisted 
the lever right, if you wanted to turn it left, you twisted it 

left. It was as plain as the nose on your face. 

And now, having introduced you to this man of Sobolivka, 

I have at the same time no doubt answered many of the 
questions you had in mind. So we might as well go back 

to the wreck of the Straggler Special. 

You can imagine the horror and dismay of the passengers 
when they saw the locomotive go off by itself, no one knew 
by what strange power. And besides that, the confusion 
that overwhelmed the crew itself. The first thing they did 
was to jump up and chase after the engine as if they thought 
they could catch up with it. But it did not take them long to 
realize that they were wasting their strength; and as if to 
tease them, the locomotive suddenly proved that it could 
develop speed. In fact it flew like mad. It was the first time 
that anyone had ever seen it move so fast. There was noth¬ 
ing to do but turn back, and this they did. And then, to¬ 
gether with the guard and station master, they sat down and 
drew up a complete and detailed report; after which they 
sent off telegrams to every station along the line: beware 

RUNAWAY LOCOMOTIVE. TAKE ACTION. WIRE REPLY. 

What a panic this telegram created you can well imagine. 
What does this mean: Beware runaway locomotive? How 
does a locomotive run away? And what was this: Take ac¬ 
tion? What action could they take—besides sending tele¬ 
grams? And so once more telegrams began to fly back and 
forth, forth and back, from one end of the line to the other. 
The instruments clicked and clattered as if they were pos¬ 
sessed. Every station wired every other station, and the 
frightful news spread fast, till every town and every hamlet 
knew all the tragic details. In our town, for instance, in 
Heissin, we knew the exact number of people killed and in¬ 
jured. So violent a death! Such innocent victims! And when 
did it happen? On what day? Exactly on Hashono Rabo, 



377 


The Miracle of Hashono Rabo 

when the tickets of our fate are made out, inscribed and 
sealed high up in Heaven! Apparently Heaven wanted it 

thus ... 

That is what people said in Heissin and all the nearby 
towns, and it is impossible to describe the agony and the 
suffering that we all endured. But how did that compare 
with the suffering of the poor passengers themselves, who 
were stranded in the station at Sobolivka without a locomo¬ 
tive, like sheep without a shepherd? What could they do? 

It was Hashono Rabo. Where could they go? Celebrate the 
holiday in a strange town? And they all huddled together in 
a corner and began to discuss their plight and to speculate 
about what had happened to the Fugitive, as they had now 
named the vanished locomotive. Who knew what might hap¬ 
pen to a shlimazl like that? Just think of it—a monster 
like that careening down the track! How could it keep from 
colliding somewhere along the way with its sister train creep¬ 
ing from Heissin through Zatkovitz on its way to Sobolivka. 
What would happen to the passengers in the other train. In 
their imagination they saw the collision—a frightful catas¬ 
trophe with all its gory details. They saw it before their 
eyes—overturned carriages, shattered wheels, severed heads, 
broken legs and arms, battered satchels and suitcases spat¬ 
tered with blood! And suddenly—another telegram! A tele¬ 
gram from Zatkovitz. And what did it say? Here it is: 

THIS INSTANT LOCOMOTIVE FLEW PAST ZATKOVITZ WITH 

BLINDING SPEED CARRYING TWO PASSENGERS ONE A PRIEST. 

BOTH WAVED THEIR HANDS POINTED. CAN T SAY WHAT 

THEY MEANT. NOW ON WAY TO HEISSIN. 

What do you think of that? Two men in a runaway loco¬ 
motive—and one of them a priest? Where were they going 
—and why—and who could the other man be? Asking here 
and there they finally found out that it was a resident o^ 
Sobolivka. But who? Did anyone know? What a qu^tion. 
Of course they knew! Berel Essigmacher of Sobolivka. Ho 
did they know? How does anyone ever know? They knew. 



Sholom Aleichem 


378 


Some neighbors of his swore they had seen him and the 
priest from a distance standing together near the unhitched 
locomotive, gesturing with their hands. What did that mean? 
Why should a vinegar maker be standing with a priest near a 

locomotive, gesturing with his hands? 

The talking and the shouting went on so long that soon 
the story reached Sobolivka, and though the town is only a 
short distance from the tracks, still by the time the story was 
relayed from one person to another it had been altered so 
much, assumed so many different forms, that by the time it 
reached Berel’s home the story was so fantastic that Berel’s 
wife fainted at least ten times and they had to bring a 
doctor. And all Sobolivka came pouring into the station. The 
place became so crowded, the noise so deafening, that the 
stationmaster instructed the guard to clear the platform. 

If so, what are we doing there? Let’s be off and see what 
happened to our friend the vinegar maker and the priest on 
the Fugitive, the runaway locomotive. 

It is very easy to talk about seeing what happened in the 
runaway locomotive, but we’ll have to take Mr. Essigmacher’s 
word for it. The stories he tells about his adventure are so 
remarkable that if only half of them were true, it would be 
enough! And from what I know of him he doesn’t seem to 
be the sort of person who makes up stories. 

At first—this is Essigmacher’s version—when the locomo¬ 
tive began to move, he scarcely knew what was happening. 
Not that he was alarmed; he was simply upset by the fact 
that the locomotive would not behave as it should. According 
to logic, he said, it should have stopped dead at the second 
turn of the lever. Instead, it went faster than ever, as if ten 
thousand evil spirits were pushing it down the tracks. It 
flew with such speed that the telegraph poles shimmered and 
flickered in front of his eyes like the spots you see when 
you’re dizzy. A little later, when he came back to his senses, 
he remembered that a locomotive had brakes that could slow 
it down or stop it altogether. There should be brakes some- 



379 


The Miracle of Hashono Rabo 


where-hand brakes-air brakes-a wheel that you gave a 
good turn and it came pressing down on the rims of the 
wheels and they stopped turning . . . How could he ever 
have forgotten a simple thing like that! And he made a leap 
for the wheel, was going to give it a turn, when suddenly 

someone grabbed him by the arm and yelled, Stop. 

Who was it? The priest, pale as a sheet. "What are you 
trying to do?" he asked. “Nothing,” said Berel. “I n just try¬ 
ing to stop the engine.” “May God help you, cnes the 
priest “if you ever touch anything on that machine again. 

If you do. I’ll pick you up by the collar and throw you out 
of here so fast that you’ll forget your name was ever 
Moshko!” “Not Moshko,” Berel corrects him. “My name is 
Berko.” And he tries to explain what is meant by a wheel 
that’s called a brake. But the priest won’t let him. He was 

StU “You”ve'turned enough things here already, and look where 
your turning got us! If you touch that wheel, 111 touch y« 
You’ll wish you’d broken your neck before you ever 

me “But, Father!” pleaded Berel. “Don’t you think that my 

Uf “YouTlife!”™norted 0 the prie't bitted" “What good is your 

M At flitaBerel became angry and he turned upon the priest 
with a fury that will not soon be forgotten. In the first 
place,” he pointed out, “even if I were a dog youcughtto 
feel sorry for me. According to our law even a g . 
be harmed. It’s a living thing. And in the second p ace m 
the eyes of the Almighty, in what way is my Me any^ess 
important than any other life? Are we not alike? Do we 
not all have the same pedigree? Are we not all descended 
from the same man-Adam? And are all of us "Otgoing 
the same identical place-the rich, black carth?Andthrdly^ 
Father, look at the difference between you and me. I 
doing everything I can to make the locomotive stop, that is. 



Sholom Aleichem 


380 


I have the welfare of both of us in mind; while you are 
ready to throw me out of here, that is, to murder a human 
being!” 

That and many other fine things he told him. There in 
the flying locomotive he delivered a sermon complete with 
quotations and examples, until the poor, helpless priest was 
ready to collapse. And in the midst of the lofty discourse the 
station of Zatkovitz suddenly came into view, with the sta- 
tionmaster and the guard straining themselves at the edge of 
the platform. Berel and the priest tried to signal to them; 
they yelled and waved their arms, but nobody knew what 
they were trying to say. The station flew past, and the loco¬ 
motive was on its way to the next town—Heissin. As they 
went farther on, the priest became more friendly, but on one 
thing he still insisted. Berel must not touch the machine. 
But he did say this much: 

“Tell me, Leibko . . .” 

“My name,” corrected Berel, “is not Leibko. It’s Berko.” 

“All right,” said the priest, “let it be Berko. Tell me, 
Berko, would you be willing to jump off this locomotive to¬ 
gether with me?” 

“What for?” asked Berel. “Just to get ourselves killed?” 

To this the priest answered, “We’re going to get killed 
anyway.” 

Said Berel, “Where was that decided? What proof do you 
have? If God wants to—Oh, Father, what He can do!” 

Says the priest, “What do you think He’ll do?” 

Says Berel, “That depends on Him. Listen, Father, I’ll tell 
you something. Today we Jews have a sort of holiday— Ha - 
shono Rabo. Today up in Heaven, every human being, every 
living thing, gets a certificate that’s signed and sealed, a cer¬ 
tificate of life or death. So, Father, if God marked me down 
for death, there’s nothing I can do. What difference does it 
make to me if I’m killed jumping off the locomotive or 
standing in the locomotive? As a matter of fact, I can be 
walking along the street, and can’t I slip and get killed? But 



381 


The Miracle of Hashono Rabo 


on the other hand, if it was inscribed that I should go on 

living, then why should I jump?” 

This is the way the vinegar maker of Sobolivka tells the 

story, and he swears that every word is true. He does not 
remember how it happened or when he first became aware 
that something had happened. It was somewhere close to 
Heissin; they could see the chimney on the station. Berel 
looked at the priest and the priest looked at Berel. What 
was this? The locomotive was slowing down. Little by little 
its speed decreased. Soon it was barely crawling. Now it 
paused, then moved a few feet farther, then thought it over 

and stopped completely. 

What had happened? He suddenly remembered: the tire 
must have gone out. And when the fire in a locomotive goes 
out, the water stops boiling, and when the water stops boil¬ 
ing—well, you don’t have to be a vinegar maker in Sobolivka 
to know that the wheels stop turning. And that’s all there is 


And naturally, being Berel, he turned to the priest right 
then and there. “Well, Father, what did I tell you. he said. 
“If God Almighty had not decided this morning in Heaven 
that I should go on living here on earth, who knows how 
much longer the fire might have continued to burn, and how 

much farther we might have gone by now?” 

The priest said nothing. He stood where he was, with his 
head down, silent. What was there to say? But later, when 
it came time to part, he came up to Berel and held outhis 
hand. “Goodbye, Itzko,” he said. And Berel answered, My 


name is not Itzko. It’s Berko. 

“Let it be Berko,” said the priest. “I never knew you were 

such a . . ” And that was the last he heard. For rolling up 

the skirts of his cassock, the priest had started off with long 

strides back to his home in Golovonievska. 

Berel himself went on to Heissin and there he had a real 
holiday. Like the good Jew that he was, he offered up hanks 
for his deliverance, and then he told his story from start to 



382 


Sholom Aleichem 

finish to everyone he saw, each time with new incidents and 
new miracles. 

And everybody wanted the vinegar maker of Sobohvka to 
come home with him, spend the night with him, and tell 
him in person the story of the Miracle of Hashono Rabo. 

And what a celebration we had that night! What a 
Simchcu Torah that was! What a Simchas Torah! 



HODEL 


You look, Mr. Sholom Aleichem, as though you were sur 
prised that you hadn’t seen me for such a long time . . . 
You’re thinking that Tevye has aged all at once, his hair hai 

Ah, well, if you only knew the troubles and heartaches 
has endured of late! How is it written in our Holy Books 
“Man comes from dust, and to dust he returns. an i 
weaker than a fly, and stronger than iron. Whatever plague 
there is, whatever trouble, whatever misfortune—it never 
misses me. Why does it happen that way? Maybe because 
am a simple soul who believes everything that everyone says_ 
Tevye forgets that our wise men have told us a thousan 

times: “Beware of dogs ...” o T 

But I ask you, what can I do if that’s my nature? I am, 

as you know, a trusting person, and I never question God s 
ways. Whatever He ordains is good. Besides, ,f you do com¬ 
plain, will it do you any good? That’s what I^Iwayii tel. 
my wife. “Golde,” I say, “you re sinning. We have 

M “What do I care about a Medresh?" she says. "We have a 
daughter to marry off. And after her are two more a most 
ready. And after these two—three more— may the Evil y 

spare them!” 



Shclom Aleichem ° 

“Tut,” I say. “What’s that? Don’t you know, Golde, that 
our sag?s have thought of that also? There is a Medresh for 
that, too ...” 

But she doesn’t let me finish. “Daughters to be married 
off,” she says, “are a stiff Medresh in themselves.” 

So try to explain something to a woman! 

Where does that leave us? Oh, yes, with a houseful of 
daughters, bless the Lord. Each one prettier than the next. It 
may not be proper for me to praise my own children, but I 
can’t help hearing what the whole world calls them, can I? 
Beauties, every one of them! And especially Hodel, the one 
that com«*i after Tzeitl, who, you remember, fell in love with 
the tailor. And is this Hodel beautiful . . . How can I de¬ 
scribe her to you? Like Esther in the Bible, “of beautiful 
form and fair to look upon.” And as if that weren t bad 
enough, rhe has to have brains, too. She can write and she 
can read -Yiddish and Russian both. And books—she swal¬ 
lows like dumplings. You may be wondering how a daugh¬ 
ter of Te.Tye happens to be reading books, when her father 
deals in butter and cheese? That’s what I’d like to know my¬ 
self . . . 

But that’s the way it is these days. Look at these lads who 
haven’t got a pair of pants to their name, and still they want 
to study! Ask them, “What are you studying? Why are you 
studying?” They can’t tell you. It’s their nature, just as it’s a 
goat’s nature to jump into gardens. Especially since they 
aren’t oven allowed in the schools. “Keep off the grass!” read 
all the signs as far as they’re concerned. And yet you ought 
to see how they go after it! And who are they? Workers* 
children. Tailors’ and cobblers’, so help me God! They go 
away to Yehupetz or to Odessa, sleep in garrets, eat what 
Pharaoh ate during the plagues—frogs and vermin—and for 
months on end do not see a piece of meat before their eyes. 
Six of them can make a banquet on a loaf of bread and a 
herring. Eat, drink and be merry! That’s the life! 

Well, so one of that band had to lose himself in our 
rorner of the world. I used to know his father—he was a 



385 


llodel 


cigarette-maker, and as poor as a man could be. But that is 
nothing against the young fellow. For if Rabbi Jochanan 
wasn’t too proud to mend boots, what is wrong with having 
a father who makes cigarettes? There is only one thing I 
can’t understand: why should a pauper like that be so anxious 
to study? True, to give the devil his due, the boy has a good 
head on his shoulders, an excellent head. Pertschik, his name 
was, but we called him “Feferel”— “Peppercorn.” And he 
looked like a peppercorn, little, dark, dried up and homely, 
but full of confidence and with a quick, sharp tongue. 

Well one day I was driving home from Boiberik where I 
had got rid of my load of milk and butter and cheese, 
and as usual I sat lost in thought, dreaming of many things, 
of this and that, and of the rich people of Yehupetz who 
had everything their own way while Tevye, the shhmazl and 
his wretched little horse slaved and hungered all their days. 
It was summer, the sun was hot, the flies were biting, on a 
sides the world stretched endlessly. I felt like spreading out 
my arms and flying! 

I lift up my eyes, and there on the road ahead of me l 
see a young man trudging along with a package under his 
arm, sweating and panting. “Rise, O Yokel the son of Rekel 
as we say in the synagogue,” I called out to him. Climb 
into my wagon and I’ll give you a ride. I have plenty of 
room. How is it written? ‘If you see the ass of him that 
hateth thee lying under its burden, thou shall forebear to 

pass it by.’ Then how about a human being?” 

At this the shlimazl laughs, and climbs into the wagon. 

“Where might the young gentleman be coming from. I 

ask. 

“From Yehupetz.” . 

“And what might a young gentleman like you be doing in 

Yehupetz?” I ask. .. 

“A young gentleman like me is getting ready for his ex¬ 
aminations.” . , . . 

“And what might a young gentleman like you be stu y- 

ing?” 



Sholom Aleichem 


386 


“I only wish I knew!” . . 

“Then why does a young gentleman like you bother his 

head for nothing?” 

“Don't worry, Reb Tevye. A young gentleman like me 
knows what he’s doing.” 

“So_if you know who / am, tell me who you are. 

“Who am 1? I’m a man.” 

“I can see that you're not a horse. I mean, as we Jews 

say, whose are you?” 

“Whose should I be but God’s?” 

“I know that you’re God’s. It is written, ‘All living things 
are His.’ I mean, whom are you descended from? Are you 

from around here, or from Lithuania? 

“I am descended," he says, “from Adam, our father. I come 

from right around here. You know who we are.” 

“Well then, who is your father? Come, tell me.” 

“My father,” he says, “was called Pertschik.” 

I spat with disgust. “Did you have to torture me like this 
all that time? Then you must be Pertschik the cigarette- 

maker’s son!” t M 

“Yes, that’s who I am. Pertschik the cigarette-maker’s son. 

“And you go to the universtiy?” 

“Yes—the university.” 

“Well,” I said, “I'm glad to hear it. Man and fish and fowl 
—you’re all trying to better yourselves! But tell me, my lad, 
what do you live on, for instance?” 

“I live on what I eat.” 

“That’s good,” I say. “And what do you eat?” 

“I eat anything I can get.” 

“I understand,” I say. “You’re not particular. If there is 
something to eat, you eat. If not, you bite your lip and go 
to bed hungry. But it’s all worthwhile as long as you can at¬ 
tend the university. You’re comparing yourself to those rich 
people of Yehupetz . . .” 

At these words Pertschik bursts out, “Don’t you dare com¬ 
pare me to them! They can go to hell as far as I care! 
“You seem to be somewhat prejudiced against the rich,” 



387 


Ilodel 


I say. “Did they divide your father’s inheritance among them- 
selves^” 

“Let me tell you,” says he, “it may well be that you and I 
and all the rest of us have no small share in their inhent- 

ail “Listen to me,” I answer. “Let your enemies talk like that. 
But one thing I can see: you’re not a bashful lad. You know 
what a tongue is for. If you have the time, stop at my house 
tonight and we’ll talk a little more. And if you come early, 

you can have supper with us, too. 

Our young friend didn’t have to be asked twice. He ar- 

rived at the right moment—when the borsht was on the 
table and the hushes were baking in the oven. Just in 
time!” I said. “Sit down. You can say grace or not. just a 
you please. I'm not God's watchman; 1 won t be punished 
for your sins.” And as I talk to him I feel myself drawn to 
the fellow somehow, I don't know why. Maybe it s because I 
like a person one can talk to, a person who can understand 

a quotation and follow an argument about pH« so P h 
or that or something else . . . That's the kind of person 1 

am And from that evening on our young friend began coming 
to our house almost every day. He had a few private student 
and when he was through giving his lessons he d come to 
our house to rest up and visit for a while. What the poor 
fellow got for his lessons you can imagine for yourse'f.jf 1 

tell you that the very richest people used to pay l ^ r ,u, ° 
three rubles a month; and besides their regular dunes they 
were expected to read telegrams for therm write out ad 
dresses, and even run errands at times. Why not? A dte 

passage says, “If you eat bread you have 10 earn . 
lucky for him that most of the time he used « eat with us^ 
For this he used to give my daughters lessons, too. One good 
turn deserves another. And in this way he became almost a 
m mbeTo r f The family. The girls saw to it that he had enough 
to eat and my wife kept his shirts clean and Ms socks 
mended. And it was at this time that we changed h.s Rus 



Sholom Aleichem 


388 


sian name of Pertschik to Feferel. And it can truthfully be 
said that we all came to love him as though he were one of 
us, for by nature he was a likable young man, simple, 
straightforward, generous. Whatever he had he shared with 
us. 

There was only one thing I didn’t like about him, and that 
was the way he had of suddenly disappearing. Without warn¬ 
ing he would get up and go off; we looked around, and 
there was no Feferel. When he came back I would ask, 
“Where were you, my fine-feathered friend?” And. he 
wouldn’t say a word. I don’t know how you are, but as for 
me, I dislike a person with secrets. I like a person to be 
willing to tell what he's been up to. But you can say this 
for him: when he did start talking, you couldn’t stop him. 
He poured out everything. What a tongue he had! “Against 
the Lord and against His anointed; let us break their bands 
asunder.” And the main thing was to break the bands . . . 
He had the wildest notions, the most peculiar ideas. Every¬ 
thing was upside down, topsy-turvy. For instance, according 
to his way of thinking, a poor man was far more important 
than a rich one, and if he happened to be a worker too, 
then he was really the brightest jewel in the diadem! He 
who toiled with his hands stood first in his estimation. 

“That’s good,” I say, “but will that get you any money?” 

At this he becomes very angry and tries to tell me that 
money is the root of all evil. Money, he says, is the source 
of all falsehood, and as long as money amounts to something 
nothing will ever be done in this world in the spirit of 
justice. And he gives me thousands of examples and illustra¬ 
tions that make no sense whatever. 

“According to your crazy notions,” I tell him, “there is no 
justice in the fact that my cow gives milk and my horse 
draws a load.” I didn’t let him get away with anything. 
That’s the kind of man Tevye is . . . 

But my Feferel can argue too. And how he can argue! If 
there is something on his mind, he comes right out with it. 
One evening we were sitting on my stoop talking things 



389 


Ilodel 


over—discussing philosophic matters—when he suddenly 
said, “Do you know, Reb Tevye, you have very fine daugh¬ 
ters.” 

“Is that so?” said I. “Thanks for telling me. After all, 
they have someone to take after.” 

“The oldest one especially is a very bright girl,” said he. 
“She’s all there!” 

“I know without your telling me,” said I. “The apple never 
falls very far from the tree.” 

And I glowed with pride. What father isn’t happy when 
his children are praised? How should I have known that 
from such an innocent remark would grow such fiery love? 

Well, one summer twilight I was driving through Boiberik, 
going from datcha to datcha with my goods, when someone 
stopped me. I looked up and saw that it was Ephraim the 
matchmaker. And Ephraim, like all matchmakers, was con¬ 
cerned with only one thing—arranging marriages. So when 
he sees me here in Boiberik he stops me and says, “Excuse 
me, Reb Tevye, I’d like to tell you something.” 

“Go ahead,” I say, stopping my horse, “as long as it’s good 
news.” 

“You have,” says he, “a daughter.” 

“I have,” I answer, “seven daughters.” 

“I know,” says he. “I have seven, too.” 

“Then together,” I tell him, “we have fourteen.” 

“But joking aside,” he says, “here is what I have to tell 
you. As you know, I am a matchmaker; and I have a young 
man for you to consider, the very best there is, a regular 
prince. There’s not another like him anywhere.” 

“Well,” I say, “that sounds good enough to me. But what 
do you consider a prince? If he’s a tailor or a shoemaker or 
a teacher, you can keep him. I’ll find my equal or I won t 

have anything. As the Medresh says . . 

“Ah, Reb Tevye,” says he, “you’re beginning with your 
quotations already! If a person wants to talk to you he has 
to study up first . . . But better listen to the sort of match 
Ephraim has to offer you. Just listen and be quiet. 



Sholoin Aleiehem 


390 


And then he begins to rattle off all his client’s virtues. 
And it really sounds like something . . . First of all, he 
comes from a very fine family. And that is very important 
to me, for I am not just a nobody either. In our family you 
will find all sorts of people—spotted, striped and speckled, 
as the Bible says. There are plain, ordinary people, there are 
workers, and there are property owners . . . Secondly, he is 
a learned man who can read small print as well as large; he 
knows all the Commentaries by heart. And that is certainly 
not a small thing, either, for an ignorant man I hate even 
worse than pork itself. To me an unlettered man is worse— 
a thousand times worse—than a hoodlum. You can go around 
bareheaded, you can even walk on your head if you like, but 
if you know what Rashi and the others have said, you are a 
man after my own heart . . . And on top of everything, 
Ephraim tells me, this man of his is rich as can be. He has 
his own carriage drawn by two horses so spirited that you 
can see a vapor rising from them. And that I don’t object to, 
either. Better a rich man than a poor one! God Himself must 
hate a poor man, for if He did not, would He had made 
him poor? 

“Well,” I ask, “what more do you have to say?” 

“What more can I say? He wants me to arrange a match 
with you. He is dying, he’s so eager. Not for you, naturally, 
but for your daughter. He wants a pretty girl.” 

"He is dying?” I say. “Then let him keep dying . . . And 
who is this treasure of yours? What is he? A bachelor? A 
widower? Is he divorced? What’s wrong with him” 

“He is a bachelor,” says Ephraim. “Not so young any more, 
but he’s never been married.” 

“And what is his name, may I ask?” 

But this he wouldn’t tell me. “Bring the girl to Boiberik,” 
he says, “and then I’ll tell you.” 

“Bring her?” says I. “That’s the way one talks about a 
horse or a cow that’s being brought to market. Not a girl!” 

Well, you know what these matchmakers are. They can 
talk a stone wall into moving. So we agreed that early next 



391 


Hodel 


week I would bring my daughter to Boiberik. And driving 
home, all sorts of w'onderful thoughts came to me, and I 
imagined my Hodel riding in a carriage drawn by spirited 
horses. The whole world envied me, not so much for the 
carriage and horses as for the good deeds I accomplished 
through my wealthy daughter. I helped the needy with 
money—let this one have twenty-five rubles, that one fifty, 
another a hundred. How do we say it? “Other people have 
to live too . . That’s what I think to myself as I ride 
home in the evening, and I whip my horse and talk to him 
in his own language. 

“Hurry, my little horse,” I say, “move your legs a little 
faster and you’ll get your oats that much sooner. As the 
Bible says, ‘If you don’t work, you don’t cat’ . . 

Suddenly I see two people coming out of the woods—a 
man and a woman. Their heads are close together and they 
are whispering to each other. Who could they be, I wonder, 
and I look at them through the dazzling rays of the setting 
sun. I could swear the man was Feferel. But whom was he 
walking with so late in the day? I put my hand up and 
shield my eyes and look closely. Who was the damsel? 
Could it be Hodel? Yes, that’s who it was! Hodel! So? So 
that’s how they’d been studying their grammar and reading 
their books together? Oh, Tevye, what a fool you are . . . 

I stop the horse and call out: 

“Good evening! And what’s the latest news of the war? 
How do you happen to be out here this time of the day? 
What are you looking for—the day before yesterday?” 

At this the couple stops, not knowing what to do or say. 
They stand there, awkward and blushing, with their eyes 
lowered. Then they look up at me, I look at them, and they 
look at each other ... 

“Well,” I say, “you look as if you hadn’t seen me in a 
long time. I am the same Tevye as ever, I haven t changed 
by a hair.” 

I speak to them half angrily, half jokingly. Then my 
daughter, blushing harder than ever, speaks up: 



Sholom Aleichem 


392 


“Father, you can congratulate us.” 

“Congratulate you?” I say. “What’s happened? Did you 
find a treasure buried in the woods? Or were you just saved 
from some terrible danger?” 

“Congratulate us,” says Feferel this time. “We’re engaged.” 

“What do you mean—engaged?” 

“Don’t you know what engaged means?” says Feferel, look¬ 
ing me straight in the eye. “It means that I’m going to marry 
her and she’s going to marry me.” 

I look him back in the eye and say, “When was the con¬ 
tract signed? And why didn’t you invite me to the cere¬ 
mony? Don’t you think I have a slight interest in the mat¬ 
ter?” I joke with them and yet my heart is breaking. But 
Tevye is not a weakling. He wants to hear everything out. 
“Getting married,” I say, “without matchmakers, without an 
engagement feast?” 

“What do we need matchmakers for?” says Feferel. “We 
arranged it between ourselves.” 

“So?” I say. “That’s one of God’s wonders! But why were 
you so silent about it?” 

“What was there to shout about?” says he. “We wouldn’t 
have told you now, either, but since we have to part soon, 
we decided to have the wedding first.” 

This really hurt. How do they say it? It hurt to the quick. 
Becoming engaged without my knowledge—that was bad 
enough, but I could stand it. He loves her; she loves him— 
that I’m glad to hear. But getting married? That was too 
much for me . . . 

The young man seemed to realize that I wasn’t too well 
pleased with the news. “You see, Reb Tevye,” he offered, 
“this is the reason: I am about to go away.” 

“When are you going?” 

“Very soon.” 

“And where are you going?” 

“That I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.” 

What do you think of that? A secret! A young man 



393 


Ilodel 


named Feferel comes into our lives—small, dark, homely, 
disguises himself as a bridegroom, wants to marry my daugh¬ 
ter and then leave her—and he won’t even say where he’s 
going! Isn’t that enough to drive you crazy? 

“All right,” I say. “A secret is a secret. Everything you do 
seems to be a secret. But explain this to me, my friend. You 
are a man of such—what do you call it?—integrity; you 
wallow in justice. So tell me, how does it happen that you 
suddenly marry Tevye’s daughter and then leave her? Is that 
integrity? Is that justice? It’s lucky that you didn’t decide to 
rob me or burn my house down!” 

“Father,” says Hodel, “you don’t know how happy we are 
now that we’ve told you our secret. It’s like a weight off our 
chests. Come, Father, kiss me.” 

And they both grab hold of me, she on one side, he on 
the other, and they begin to kiss and embrace me, and I to 
kiss them in return. And in their great excitement they be¬ 
gin to kiss each other. It was like going to a play. “Well,” I 
say at last, “maybe you’ve done enough kissing already? It’s 
time to talk about practical things.” 

“What, for instance?” they ask. 

“For instance,” I say, “the dowry, clothes, wedding ex¬ 
penses, this, that and the other . . 

“We don’t need a thing,” they tell me. “We don’t need 
anything. No this, no that, no other.” 

“Well then, what do you need?” I ask. 

“Only the wedding ceremony,” they tell me. 

What do you think of that! . . . Well, to make a long 
story short, nothing I said did any good. They went ahead 
and had their wedding, if you want to call it a wedding. 
Naturally it wasn’t the sort that I would have liked. A quiet 
little wedding—no fun at all. And besides, there was a wife 
I had to do something about. She kept plaguing me: what 
were they in such a hurry about? Go try to explain their 
haste to a woman. But don’t worry. I invented a story— 
“great, powerful and marvelous,” as the Bible says, about a 



Sholom Aleichem 

rich aunt in Yehupetz, an inheritance, all sorts of foolish¬ 
ness. 

And a couple of hours after this wonderful wedding I 
hitched up my horse and wagon and the three of us got in, 
that is, my daughter, my son-in-law and I, and off we went to 
the station at Boiberik. Sitting in the wagon, I steal a look at 
the young couple, and I think to myself: what a great and 
powerful Lord we have and how cleverly He rules the world. 
What strange and fantastic beings He has created. Here you 
have a new young couple, just hatched; he is going off, the 
Good Lord alone knows where, and is leaving her behind— 
and do you see either one of them shed a tear, even for ap¬ 
pearance’s sake? But never mind; Tevye is not a curious old 
woman. He can wait. He can watch and see . . . 

At the station I see a couple of young fellows, shabbily 
dressed, down-at-the-heels, coming to see my happy bride¬ 
groom off. One of them is dressed like a peasant with his 
blouse worn like a smock over his trousers. The two whisper 
together mysteriously for several minutes. Look out, Tevye, I 
tay to myself. You have fallen among a band of horse thieves, 
pickpockets, housebreakers or counterfeiters. 

Coming home from Boiderik I can’t keep still any longer 
and tell Hodel what I suspect. She bursts out laughing and 
tries to assure me that they were very honest young men, 
honorable men, whose whole life was devoted to the welfare 
of humanity; their own private welfare meant nothing to 
them. For instance, the one with his blouse over his trousers 
was a rich man’s son. He had left his parents in Yehupetz 
and wouldn’t take a penny from them. 

“Oh,” said I, “that’s just wonderful. An excellent young 
man! All he needs, now that he has his blouse over his 
trousers and wears his hair long, is a harmonica, or a dog to 
follow him, and then he would really be a beautiful sight!” 
I thought I was getting even with her for the pain she and 
this new husband of hers had caused me; but did she care? 
Not at all! She pretended not to understand what I was 
saying. I talked to her about Feferel and she answered me 



395 


Model 


with “the cause of humanity” and “workers” and other such 
talk. 

“What good is your humanity and your workers,” I say, “il 
it’s all a secret? There is a proverb: ‘Where there are secrets, 
there is knavery.’ But tell me the truth now. Where did he 
go, and why?” 

“I’ll tell you anything,” she says, “but not that. Better don’t 
ask. Believe me, you’ll find out yourself in good time. You’ll 
hear the news—and maybe very soon—and good news at 
that.” 

“Amen,” I say. “From your mouth into God’s ears! But 
may our enemies understand as little about it as I do.” 

“That,” says she, “is the whole trouble. You'll never under¬ 
stand.” 

“Why not?” say I. “Is it so complicated? It seems to me 
that I can understand even more difficult things.” 

“These things you can’t understand with your brain alone,” 
she says. “You have to feel them, you have to feel them in 
your heart.” 

And when she said this to me, you should have seen how 
her face shone and her eyes burned. Ah, those daughters of 
mine! They don’t do anything halfway. When they become 
involved in anything it’s with their hearts and minds, their 
bodies and souls. 

Well, a week passed, then two weeks—five—six—seven 
. . . and we heard nothing. There was no letter, no news 
of any kind. "Feferel is gone for good,” I said, and glanced 
over at Flodel. There wasn’t a trace of color in her face. And 
at the same time she didn’t rest at all; she found something 
to do every minute of the day, as though trying to forget 
her troubles. And she never once mentioned his name, as if 
there never had been a Feferel in the world! 

But one day when I came home from work I found Hodel 
going about with her eyes swollen from weeping. I made a 
few inquiries and found out that someone had been to see 
her, a long-haired young man who had taken her aside and 
talked to her for some time. Ah! That must have been the 


396 


Sholom Aleichem 

young fellow who had disowned his rich parents and pulled 
his blouse down over his trousers. Without further delay I 
called Hodel out into the yard and bluntly asked her: 

“Tell me, daughter, have you heard from him?” 

“Yes.” 

“Where is he—your predestined one?” 

“He is far away.” 

“What is he doing there?” 

“He is serving time.” 

“Serving time?” 

“Yes.” 

“Why? What did he do?” 

She doesn’t answer me. She looks me straight in the eyes 
and doesn’t say a word. 

“Tell me, my dear daughter,” I say, “according to what I 
can understand, he is not serving for a theft. So if he is 
neither a thief nor a swindler, why is he serving? For what 
good deeds?” 

She doesn’t answer. So I think to myself, “If you don’t 
want to, you don’t have to. He is your headache, not mine.” 
But my heart aches for her. No matter what you say. I’m still 
her father . . . 

Well, it was the evening of Hashono Rabo. On a holi¬ 
day I’m in the habit of resting and my horse rests too. As it 
is written in the Bible: “Thou shalt rest from thy labors and 
so shall thy wife and thine ass . . .” Besides, by that time of 
the year there is very little for me to do in Boiberik. As 
soon as the holidays come and the shofar sounds, all the 
summer datchas close down and Boiberik becomes a desert. 
At that season I like to sit at home on my own stoop. To 
me it is the finest time of the year. Each day is a gift from 
heaven. The sun no longer bakes like an oven, but caresses 
with a heavenly softness. The woods are still green, the 
pines give out a pungent smell. In my yard stands the succah 
—the booth I have built for the holiday, covered with 
branches, and around me the forest looks like a huge succah 



397 


Hodel 


designed for God Himself. Here, I think, God celebrates 
His Succos, here and not in town, in the noise and tumult 
where people run this way and that panting for breath as 
they chase after a small crust of bread and all you hear is 
money, money, money ... 

As 1 said, it is the evening of Hashono Rabo. The sky is a 
deep blue and myriads of stars twinkle and shine and blink 
From time to time a star falls through the sky, leaving be¬ 
hind it a long green band of light. This means that some¬ 
one’s luck has fallen ... I hope it isn’t my star that is fall¬ 
ing, and somehow Hodel comes to mind. She has changed 
in the last few days, has come to life again. Someone, it 
seems, has brought her a letter from him, from over there. 

I wish I knew what he had written, but I won’t ask. If she 
won’t speak, I won’t either. Tevye is not a curious old 

woman. Tevye can wait. 

And as I sit thinking of Hodel, she comes out of the 
house and sits down near me on the stoop. She looks cau¬ 
tiously around and then whispers, “I have something to tell 
you, Father. I have to say goodbye to you, and I think it s for 

always.” 

She spoke so softly that I could barely hear her, and she 
looked at me in a way that I shall never forget. 

“What do you mean—goodbye for always?” I say to her, 

and turn my face aside. . 

“I mean I am going away early tomorrow morning, and 

we shall possibly never see each other again.” 

“Where are you going, if I may be so bold as to ask. 

“I am going to him.” 

“To him? And where is he?” 

“He is still serving, but soon they’ll be sending hl ™ awa Y, 
“And you’re going there to say goodbye to him. 1 ask, 

pretending not to understand. 

“No. I am going to follow him,” she says. Over there. 

“There? Where is that? What do they call the place. 

“We don’t know the exact name of the place, but we 

know that it’s far—terribly, terribly far.” 


Sholom Aleichem 


398 


And she speaks, it seems to me, with great joy and pride, 
as though he had done something for which he deserved a 
medal. What can I say to her? Most fathers would scold a 
child for such talk, punish her, even beat her maybe. But 
Tevye is not a fool. To my way of thinking anger doesn t 
get you anywhere. So I tell her a story. 

“I see, my daughter, as the Bible says, ‘Therefore shalt 
thou leave thy father and mother’—for a Feferel you are 
ready to forsake your parents and go off to a strange land, to 
some desert across the frozen wastes, where Alexander of 
Macedon, as I once read in a story book, once found himself 
stranded among savages . . 

I speak to her half in fun and half in anger, and all the 
time my heart weeps. But Tevye is no weakling; I control 
myself. And Hodel doesn’t lose her dignity either; she an¬ 
swers me word for word, speaking quietly and thoughtfully. 
And Tevye’s daughters can talk. 

And though my head is lowered and my eyes are shut, 
still I seem to see her—her face is pale and lifeless like the 
moon, but her voice trembles . . . Shall I fall on her neck 
and plead with her not to go? I know it won’t help. Those 
daughters of mine—when they fall in love with somebody, it 
is with their heads and hearts, their bodies and souls. 

Well, we sat on the doorstep a long time—maybe all 
night. Most of the time we were silent, and when we did 
speak it was in snatches, a word here, a word there. I said 
to her, “I want to ask you only one thing: did you ever hear 
of a girl marrying a man so that she could follow him to 
the ends of the earth?” And she answered, “With him I’d go 
anywhere.” I pointed out how foolish that was. And she said, 
‘‘Father, you will never understand.” So I told her a little 
fable—about a hen that hatched some ducklings. As soon as 
the ducklings could move they took to the water and swam, 
and the poor hen stood on shore, clucking and clucking. 

‘‘What do you say to that, my daughter?” 

“What can I say?” she answered. “I am sorry for the poor 



399 


Ilodel 


hen; but just because she stood there clucking, should the 
ducklings have stopped swimming?” 

There is an answer for you. She’s not stupid, that daughter 

of mine. 

But time does not stand still. It was beginning to get light 
already, and from within the house my old woman was mut¬ 
tering. More than once she had called out that it was time 
to go to bed, but seeing that it didn’t help she stuck her 
head out of the window and said to me—with her usual 
benediction, “Tevye, what’s keeping you?” 

‘‘Be quiet, Golde,” I answered. “Remember what the Psalm 
says, ‘Why are the nations in an uproar, and why do the 
peoples mutter in vain?’ Have you forgotten that it s 
Hashono Rabo tonight? Tonight all our fates are decided and 
the verdict is sealed. We stay up tonight . . . Listen to me, 
Golde, you light the samovar and make some tea while I go 
to get the horse and wagon ready. I am taking Hodel to the 
station in the morning.” And once more I make up a story 
about how she has to go to Yehupetz, and from there farther 
on, because of that same old inheritance. It is possible, I 
say, that she may have to stay there through the winter and 
maybe the summer too, and maybe even another winter; and 
so we ought to give her something to take along some 
linen, a dress, a couple of pillows, some pillow slips, and 
things like that. 

And as I give these orders I tell her not to cry. It s 
Hashono Rabo and on Hashono Rabo one mustn t weep. It s 
a law.” But naturally they don’t pay any attention to me, and 
when the times comes to say goodbye they all start weeping 
—their mother, the children and even Hodel herself. And 
when she came to say goodbye to her older sister Tzeitl 
(Tzeitl and her husband spend their holidays with us) they 
fell on each other’s necks and you could hardly tear them 

apart. 

I was the only one who did not break down. I was firm 
as steel—though inside I was more like a boiling samovar. 



400 


Sholom Aleichem 

All the way to Boiberik we were silent, and when we came 
near the station I asked her for the last time to tell me 
what it was that Feferel had really done. If they were send> 
ing him away, there must have been a reason. At this she 
became angry and swore by all that was holy that he was 
innocent. He was a man, she insisted, who cared nothing 
about himself. Everything he did was for humanity at large, 
especially for those who toiled with their hands—that is, the 
workers. That made no sense to me. “So he worries about 
the world” I told her. “Why doesn’t the world worry a little 
about him? Nevertheless, give him my regards, that Alexan¬ 
der of Macedon of yours, and tell him I rely on his honor 
(For he is a man of honor, isn’t he?) to treat my daughter 
well. And write to your old father some times.” 

When I finish talking she falls on my neck and begins to 
weep. “Goodbye, Father,” she cries. “Goodbye! God alone 
knows when we shall see each other again.” 

Well, that was too much for me. I remembered this Hodel 
when she was still a baby and I carried her in my arms, I 
carried her in my arms . . . Forgive me, Mr. Sholom 
Aleichem, for acting like an old woman. If you only knew 
what a daughter she is. If you could only see the letters she 
writes. Oh, what a daughter . . . 

And now, let’s talk about more cheerful things. Tell me, 
what news is there about the cholera in Odessa? 



A DAUGHTER’S GRAVE 


You’re on your way to the Fair, and we’re coming home 
from the Fair. I have done my weeping already, and you’re 
still going to weep ... So let me make room for you. 
Here, move a little closer. You’ll be more comfortable. 

“There, that’s good!” 

Thus spoke two passengers sitting behind me in the train. 
That is, one of them spoke, and the other threw in a word 

like an echo, from time to time. 

“We were both there together, my old woman and I,” said 
the first. “There she is over there, sleeping on the floor. Poor 
thing, she’s all worn out. She’s done enough weeping for all 
of us, there at the cemetery. She fell face down on the 
g ra ve—and you couldn’t drag her away! I begged her, Isn t 
that enough? Your tears won’t bring her back to life again!’ 
Did she listen to me? But what do you expect? Such a 
tragedy! An only daughter. A treasure. Gifted and beautiful 
and clever. A high school graduate . . . It’s two years now 
since she died. Maybe you think it was consumption? Not 
at all! She was strong and healthy. She did it herself took 
her own life . . .” 

“Is that a fact!” 

From their conversation I understood the kind of Fair they 
were talking about. I recalled that it was September, the 



Sholom Aleichem 


402 


season of mourning, dear to the hearts of Jews. All over 
the Pale, during those weeks before Rosh Hashono, Jews 
travel from one town to another, paying their respects to the 
remains of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children 
and other relatives. Bereaved mothers, orphaned daughters, 
lonely sisters and just unfortunate women throw themselves 
on the dear hallowed graves, shed a few tears, pour out their 
grief, ease their tortured souls . . . 

I can tell you: this isn’t the first year I’ve been a traveling 
man, but I can’t remember when we’ve had such a good 
crop of mourners as this September. The railroads, bless the 
Lord, will make money. The carriages are packed. They are 
full of long-faced men and women with swollen red eyes 
and shiny noses. Some are on the way to the Fair, and others 
are coming home from the Fair . . . Outside you can smell 
early autumn. In your heart you feel autumn. And you’re 
longing, you’re longing for home . . . 

I can’t help but overhear the rest of the conversation. 

“Maybe you think it was one of today’s tragedies? Black 
smocks, red flags, Siberia? Heaven forbid! That much, at 
least, God has spared me. I saw to that! After all, I had a 
reason to. An only daughter. Such a gifted girl. So beauti¬ 
ful and clever. And a high school graduate! 

“I did everything I could. I watched where she went and 
whom she talked with, and what she said and what books 
she read. ‘Daughter, darling,’ I said. ‘If you want to read 
books, go right ahead! But I have to know,’ I said, ‘what 
you’re reading.’ It’s true I don’t know too much about 
such things, but I have a certain intuition, an inner feeling. 
Me—all I have to do is look into a book—even if it’s in 
French—and I can tell you right away what it smacks of!” 

“Imagine that!” 

“I didn’t want my child to play with fire. I was afraid . . . 
But don’t think I resorted to trickery or force. On the con¬ 
trary, I was gentle. All I did was remind her of a proverb. 
‘Daughter, darling,’ I said. ‘Let the wheel turn as it will. 
Neither you nor I can stop it . . That’s the way I talked 



403 


A Daughter’s Grave 


to her. And what did she say? Not a thing! An angel. Quiet 
as a dove! . . . And what does God do? The bad times pass. 
We live through all the troubles . . . Revolutions! Con¬ 
stitutions! Black smocks, red flags, shorn hair, bombs and the 
devil knows what else! All these things are gone. Although 
before those times passed, you can understand, I almost 
lost my wits. After all, didn’t I have a right to? There was 
plenty to be afraid of. An only child. Gifted and beautiful. 
A high school graduate!” 

‘‘So! What happened?” 

‘‘To make a long story short . . . Praise the Lord! We 
lived through those terrible times. Now, with God s help, 
we could start thinking about marrying her off. A dowry? 
That’s the least of my worries. Let the Lord only send the 
right man along! And the merry-go-round began. Matches, 
matchmakers, prospects, suitors! And my daughter shows no 
interest. You think maybe she doesn’t want to get married? 
Who knows? . . . What then? I’ll tell you. I began to look, 
to check up, and I find something. She’s been reading a 
book—in secret! And not alone. Three of them were reading 
it together. She, and a friend of hers, our cantor’s daughter 
—a smart girl, too, a high school graduate—and a third. Who 
is that? A nobody. A good-for-nothing, with a round face 
full of pimples and weak eyes without lashes, and gold- 
rimmed glasses to make him look still handsomer. A repul¬ 
sive creature. And on top of it all, persistent. You couldn t 
get rid of him. He crawled after them—like a worm! Why 
do I call him a worm? I’ll explain it to you. There are all 
kinds of people in the world. Some are oxen. Some are 
horses. Some are dogs. There are some who are pigs. And 
this one was a worm. Now do you understand?” 

‘‘Of course!” 

“How did this worm ever find his way into my house? 
Through the cantor’s daughter. He’s a cousin of hers. He was 
studying to become a druggist—or a lawyer—or a dentist 
the devil alone knows what! All I know is that to me he 
was the Angel of Death. I didn’t like him from the very 



Sholom Aleichem 


404 


beginning. I even said so to my wife. But she said to me, 
‘What foolish notions you have!’ Still, I keep an eye on 
them. I keep my ears open, and I’m not at all pleased with 
the way the three of them are always reading together, and 
the way they talk together, getting all wrought up and fever¬ 
ish . . . 

“So I say to her one time, ‘Daughter, darling, what’s this 
book the three of you are so worked up about?’ 

“ ‘Nothing,’ she says. ‘It’s just a book.’ 

“ ‘I see it’s a book,’ I tell her, ‘but what kind of a book?’ 

“ ‘And if I told you,’ says she, ‘would you know?’ 

“ ‘Why shouldn’t I know?’ says I. And she laughs and 
tells me, ‘It isn’t what you’re afraid of. It’s just an ordinary 
book. It’s name is Sanni. A novel by Archie Bashe’s.’ 

“ ‘Archie Bashe’s?’ I say to her. ‘Why, that was a blind 
teacher we had in this town. He died a long time ago.’ 

“Again she laughs, and I say to myself, ‘Ah-ha, my daugh¬ 
ter! You laugh, and your poor father is bleeding inwardly!’ 
Here is what I thought: the old troubles were beginning 
again . . . And do you think I didn’t get hold of that book 
and read it myself?” 

“My goodness! Really!” 

“Not exactly myself . . . But I got somebody to read it 
for me. A young man who works for me, a clerk in my 
shop. A very smart young fellow. Reads Russian like a pro¬ 
fessor ... So one evening I sneaked the book away from 
my daughter’s room, gave it to this clerk of mine, and said, 
‘Here, Berel, take it and read it through. And tomorrow 
you’ll tell me what it’s all about.’ I barely lived through that 
night. The next morning, as soon as he came to work, I 
grabbed hold of him. ‘Nu, Berel,’ I said. ‘What about the 
book?’ And he says, ‘What a book!’ And his eyes are about 
ready to pop out of his head. ‘All night long,’ he tells me, 
‘I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t tear myself away!’ 

“ ‘Is that so?’ I ask. ‘Well, then, tell me more! Let me in 
on it too!’ And my Berel tells me a story . . . How can I 
describe it to you? It just made no sense. Listen to this: 



405 


A Daughter’s Grave 


“It’s about a big, strong Russian named Sanni who was 
always drinking whisky and eating sour pickles! And he had 
a sister whose name was Lida, and she was madly in love 
with a doctor, but she had an affair with an army officer and 
became pregnant. And there was a student named Yura who 
was head-over-heels in love with a girl, a school teacher, 
named Krasavitza. And this girl went out for a boat ride 
one evening—do you think she went with her boy friend. 
Not at all! She went out with that drunkard, Sanm! 

“ ‘Is that all?’ I asked. 

“ ‘Wait a minute,’ he tells me. ‘That isn’t all. There s an¬ 
other teacher too, a man named Ivan, and one day he goes 
with this drunkard to watch some naked girls bathing . . • 

“ ‘Come, come,’ I say. ‘What does it all lead up to? What s 

the point of it?’ ^ . , . , 

‘“The point of it is this,’ he tells me. This drunkard, 

Sanni, has a habit—he brays like a stallion and one time he 

comes home to his own sister Lida and he . . . 

‘“Go to the devil!’ I tell him. ‘That’s enough about that 
drunkard. Tell me what happens! What is it all about. 


How does it end?’ , , e 

“ ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘it ends like this. The army officer shoots 

himself,’ and the student shoots himself too, and Krasavitza 

takes poison, and a Jew—there’s a Jew in the book too, 

Soloveitchik, hangs himself.’ 

“I lose my patience. ‘Go!’ I say. ‘Go hang yourself to¬ 
gether with him!’ And he says ‘Why do you talk to me like 
that? Is it my fault?’ And I say, ‘No not yours. I mean this 

Archie Bashe’s.’ That’s what I tell Berel, but in my "T* 
I’m thinking of that repulsive young fellow, the devil ak 
him! And do you suppose one day I didn t catch him a 

and take him to one side . . . 


“You did 1 ” 

“Of course! And I said to him, ‘Look here! Where on 

earth did you ever pick up that trash? 

“ ‘What trash?' says he, flashing his gold-nmmed glasses at 


me. 



406 


Sholom Aleichem 

“ ‘This story of Archie Bashe’s,’ I say, ‘with that drunkard 
in it—Sanni.’ 

“ ‘Sanni,’ he tells me seriously, ‘is not a drunkard.’ 

“ ‘What else is he?’ I want to know. 

“ ‘Sanni,’ he tells me, ‘is a Hero!’ 

“ ‘And what makes him a Hero?’ I ask. ‘The fact that he 
drinks brandy out of a tea glass, eats sour pickles, and brays 
like a stallion?’ 

“The young fellow becomes furious. He takes off his 
glasses and looks at me with his red-rimmed eyes. ‘You’ve 
heard the tune, Uncle,’ he says to me, ‘but you don’t know 
the words. Sanni,’ he says, pointing his finger up in the air, 
‘Sanni is a Man of Nature—a Free Man! He says what he 
means and does what he wants!’ And he goes on and on, 
he doesn’t stop. Freedom, and love, and again freedom, and 
once more love . . . And he puffs out his small pigeon’s 
chest, makes gestures with his hands, and rants like a visiting 
preacher. 

“I stand there looking at him, and think to myself, ‘Heav¬ 
enly Father, what is this repulsive thing talking about? How 
would it be if I took him by the collar and threw him out 
of doors so hard he would have to stop and pick up all his 
teeth?’ But then I think it over: still, would it be better if 
he talked about bombs? Well, go be smart and foresee that 
there are things worse than bombs, and on account of trash 
like that I would lose my child, my only one, the apple of 
my eye, and that my wife would very nearly go out of her 
head, and that I myself out of shame and agony would have 
to give up my business and sell my home and go to live 
in another town! But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me 
tell you exactly how it came about and what started it. 

“It started during the agrarian riots. When these riots 
started we naturally feared that it would end in another 
pogrom, as such things always do, and we lived in a state of 
terror. But if the Lord wishes, miracles happen, and from 
evil good comes out. How so? From the provincial capital 
authorities sent down a platoon of soldiers, and it became 



407 


A Daughter’s Grave 

quiet and peaceful again. And besides, because of the sol¬ 
diers, the whole town came to life, business flourished. For 
what can be better for any small town than a company of 
soldiers with doctors and officers and corporals and com¬ 
manders and I don’t know what else they call them?” 

“Why, naturally!” 

“But go be smart and foresee that the cantor s daughter 
would fall in love with an officer and declare that she was 
willing to be converted in order to marry him? You can 
imagine what went on in our town! But don’t worry. The 
cantor’s daughter was not converted and she did not marry 
the officer; because as soon as the agrarian riots ended the 
troops were sent back where they came from, and in his 
great hurry the officer even forgot to say goodbye to his be¬ 
loved ... But the girl did not forget. And woe to her par¬ 
ents! You can imagine what they went through. The whole 
town seethed. Everywhere, from every mouth: ’The cantors 
daughter, the cantor’s daughter.’ Evil tongues were busy. 
Someone sent a midwife to the girl. Someone else asked the 
cantor what they were going to name the child. Thoug 
actually it was very possible that the whole story was a lie. 
You know what damage a few long tongues can do in a 

small town!” 

“How well I know!” 

■‘Oh, what a pitiful sight they were! I mean the cantor 
and his wife ... We could hardly stand it. Because after 
all—were they to blame? But at the same time I war " e “ 
my daughter, once for all, no matter how friendly they had 
been before, from that day on she must have nothing to do 
with the cantor’s daughter. And with me—when I say some¬ 
thing, there is nothing more to be said. She may be an on y 
daughter, but a father has to be respected! How was I to 
know that my daughter would keep on seeing her in secret^ 
But when did I find that out? When it was too late. When 

it was all over ...” , , • . 

Suddenly behind my back I heard someone cough and sig 

in her sleep, and the man who was telling the story became 



408 


Sholom Aleichem 

silent. He waited a few minutes and then continued in a 
lower tone than before. 

“It was the midnight services a week before Rosh Ha- 
shono. I remember it as if it happened yesterday. You should 
have seen our poor cantor as he led the services. It was 
pitiful to hear him. His sobbing was real, his groans were 
genuine. It was enough to melt a stone. And nobody knew 
what he was living through the way I did. These modern 
children! You can pity their parents . . . Well, the very 
next morning, I came home early from the synagogue, had a 
bite to eat, took my keys and went to the marketplace. I 
opened my shop and waited for Berel to come. I waited a 
half-hour. I waited an hour. No clerk, no Berel. At last I 
look up and there he is. ‘Berel, why so late?’ And he tells 
me, ‘I was at the cantor’s.’ ‘Why all of a sudden at the 
cantor’s?’ And he tells me, ‘Why, haven’t you heard what 
happened to Haika?’ ‘What happened to Haika? I ask. Why, 
she poisoned herself . . .* ” 

“Think of that!” 

“As soon as I heard that I ran straight home. My first 
thought was: what would Etka say? (That was my daughter, 
you know.) I come into the house and ask my wife, ‘Where 
is Etka?’ ‘Etka is still in bed. Why, what’s the matter?’ 
‘What’s the matter?’ I say, ‘Why, Haika just took poison.’ 
When she heard this my wife threw her hands over her 
head and began to weep and wail. ‘What’s the matter?’ I 
ask. ‘Why,’ she says, ‘only last night Etka was with her. They 
went walking together—for about two hours!’ ‘Etka—with 
Haika?’ I say. ‘What are you talking about? How could that 
happen?’ ‘Oh,’ she moaned. ‘Don’t ask me. I had to let her 
do it. She begged me not to tell you that she saw her every 
day. Something terrible has happened! I know it! I hope 
it’s not true!’ And with these words my wife runs into Etka’s 
room and falls down on the floor in a faint. I come after 
her, run to the bed, screaming, ‘Etka!’ Etka? Did I say 
Etka? There is no Etka . . 

“No Etka?” 



409 


A Daughter’s Crave 


“She was dead. Face down across the bed-dead. On her 
table was a bottle, and near it a note, in Yiddish, in her 
wn hand. She used to write the most beautiful Yiddish, 
was a pleasure to read it. 'My dear, faithful parents, she had 
written. 'Forgive me for having caused you this grief and 
shame. Forgive me. Forgive me. We promised each other 
that we’d do it—Haika and I. On the same day, at the same 
hour, by the same means; because without each other we 
could not live. I know,’ she wrote, ‘dear parents that I am 
committing a great wrong. I fought with myself for a long 
time, but it had to be. There is only one thing la* 
you, my dear ones, and that is that you bury me ogether 
with Haika, in a grave next to hers. Be well, and forget 
forget that you ever had a daughter Etka ... 

“Can you imagine that! To expect us to orge 

ever had a daughter Etka!” 

Behind my back I heard a shuffle, the sound of steps, a 
sigh, and then a woman’s voice, stifled and still sleepy. 

“Avrom! Avrom!” , . 

“Yes, Gitka—what is it? Did you sleep? Maybe you wan 

some tea . . Just a minute, we’re coming to a station. 111 
get some hot water. Where is the teakettle? Where is the 

tea and sugar?” 



CNARDS 


Nowadays a game of cards is an everyday affair. 

Where don’t we play cards nowadays? When don’t we 
play cards? And who doesn’t play cards nowadays? 

There was a time, if you know what I mean, when we 
used to play cards only once a year—at Hannukah. 

That is, if you want the whole truth, people used to get 
together for a game in those days too—a real game, a hot 
game! But where? In a secret chamber, behind locked doors. 

In winter, in cheder, between the late-aftemoon and eve¬ 
ning prayers, when the rabbi was at the synagogue warming 
himself by the stove and we were left alone; or in summer, 
in a dark corner of the stable, near a thin crack in the wall; 
or at other times of the year when we bribed Getzel, the 
shammes, and locked ourselves up in the synagogue, high up 
in the women’s balcony, turned a lectern face down for a 
table, and dealt out a hand of Starshy Kozir or Thirty-one or 
Turtle-myrtle. 

One day Riva-Leah, the gabai’s wife, of blessed memory 
(she has gone to her rest these many years) found a strange 
object in her lectern and almost fainted dead away. Who 
could have planted a thing like that—in her lectern? 

Aghast, she ran out of the synagogue into the street, 
shouting at the top of her voice: 



Cnards 


411 

“Help, fellow Jews! Help! A misfortune has come to pass! 

A calamity! A plot! Come with me and I’ll show you!” 

What was the calamity and what kind of a plot ou 
couldn’t get any answer from Riva-Leah. Only this: “Come, 

come with me and I'll show you” 

And before long she had drawn around her a fine assem¬ 
blage, consisting of the rabbi, the shochet, a few of the 
elders, and the cantor, together with a liberal sprinkling of 

our secular aristocracy. _ , 

Naturally, when the rest of the people saw Rlva - L ^ 
proceeding up the street followed by the rabbi, the shoche , 
a few of the elders and the cantor and so many of our lea 
ing citizens, they joined the procession too. And then he 
women and boys, and the little children torn by cunosUy, 
fell in behind, and together they marched into the syna 
gogue. At the head, came Riva-Leah, and behind her, the 

l ° YoTca^imagine what a terror gripped the town. People 
thought—it must be something serious. Either s ° meon< = h ‘ 
left a foundling, or some poor wretch had been found hang¬ 
ing from the rafters, or, God forbid, someone had been mur- 

de Worried and frightened, they clattered up to the women' 
balcony— Riva-Leah first, followed by the rabbi, the shochet, 

the cantor, with the rest of the town after them. 

“Where—where is it?” the crowd asked Riva-Leah, an 
listened for the cry of the foundling and looked for t 
hanging body or the trail of blood leading to the corpse 'hat 
some unknown enemy had left there to bring trouble on 

t0 A n nd then imagine how astounded they all were when in¬ 
stead of a foundling or a bleeding corpse they foun< ? 
strange and ominous object in Riva-Leah s lectern: a p chire 
of a bearded man— obviously a Russian Orthodox priest 
with an odd black cross at his side. And not Jus. one priest, 
but two priests and two crosses, one priest uprig , 
other one standing on his head . . . 



Sholom Aleichem 


412 


They all bent down and peered into Riva-Leah’s lectern: 
first the rabbi, then the shammes, then the shochet and the 
elders and the cantor; then the leading citizens; then the 
common people. They looked and drew away. For to touch 
the thing with their hands—for that no one was bold 
enough. That is, no one except one man, Velvel Ramshe- 
vitch, the cantor’s son-in-law. 

When Velvel Ramshevitch looked and saw what it was his 
face lit up, and then with a laugh, he cried, “It’s nothing! 
What’s there to get excited about? It’s just the king of 
clubs!” 

“And what is the king of clubs?” 

“A card. A card—that you play with.” 

“How did it get here?” they wanted to know. “In the lec¬ 
tern of Riva-Leah, the gabai's wife, in the women’s balcony 
of the synagogue? That’s one thing. And the other is, how 
does it happen that you, the cantor’s son-in-law, know what 
a card is, and that it’s called the king of clubs? And that it’s 
a game that people play?” 

At this our Velvel realized that he had fallen into a trap. 
And he turned every color imaginable and began to babble 
and to bleat, make sounds like a sheep or a goat, sounds that 
no one could understand, no human being, at any rate . . . 

But that is not the story I started to tell. It is only an in¬ 
troduction to our tale about cnards. I merely wanted to show 
you what a forbidden thing cards used to be and how care¬ 
fully we had to hide our knowledge of them. 

There was only one lucky week in the year when we could 
play cards freely and openly. 

That was the week of Hannukah. 

And freely and openly we gathered that week at Velvel 
Ramshevitch’s house. He was a free soul even then: he had 
shaved his beard and sidelocks, smoked on Saturdays on his 
front porch where all could see, and ate pork sausage— 
even on fast days! And he dared anyone to criticize him. 

And his wife, Chayela, the cantor’s daughter, imitating 



413 


Cnards 


him, threw away the wig that all respectable married women 
wore in those days and went about in her own yellow hair- 
sprinkled powder over her pockmarked face and spent all 
her time with a gay young crowd, laughing and makrng 
merry —showing everybody her large, stained teeth. 

The Chapel—-that was what we all called Ramshev ch s 
house—was open to all the young people in town. There we 
could -d a newspaper or a secular book, there we could 
smoke a cigarette on the Sabbath, nibble at sausage on fast 
days and—most important of all—play a game of card . 

They both loved a good game of cards, and if anything she 
ioved it even more than he did. She could hardly keep away 
from the table. It was even rumored that they made their 
uving that way, for it was obvious that she was always win¬ 
ning No matter who dealt she always had trumps. She bea 
everybody. There was nothing we could do about it. 

As vou remember, in those days many young men were 

rsis Ef XXX sews 

his wife's pearls, and even drove h.s father-.n-law into bank 

rUP Wdh one such son-in-law, in fact, she once pl.^«h 
a whole winter, and before she was through with him he ha 
divo °e d his wife, a wonderful girl, a beauty, and come to 
live with the Ramshevitches. No use telling you w at a sea 

dal it made in our town. Everybody was horr.fie . 

But that is still not the story of cnards that I started 

ten- R R on'y ‘ he "chTptT I have mentioned-the 

Ram« home— -on^he firs^night of 

As I was saying, it was the first night of H J 
were all sitting in the Chapel, playing our favorite 

card game, a real kosher game of Oket finished # 

And we played, as usual, in shifts, one gro v 



Sholom Aleichem 


414 


game and the next group sat down to play. It was that way 
all the time. One group played in the morning, another in 
the afternoon, and a third at night. And one of the Ram- 
shevitches played with each group. Either he—or she—or 
both. At night, if he was sleeping, she played; and if she was 
asleep, then he played. And sometimes it happened that one 
night passed, and two nights, and three nights, and neither 
of them slept. They both played. Except for a half-hour or 
so when one of them dropped out between games and took 
a nap. 

That was something all of us learned to do. Whenever we 
got too tired to play, we found something to lean against and 
dozed off. 

It was the same with eating. On the table there was al¬ 
ways a bottle and a small glass, herring and sausage. And 
when you were hungry you took a few minutes off and ate. 

Naturally, you understand, we paid for all this. At each 
game part of the winnings were taken out for “the maid,” 
though in the Chapel there never had been a maid. The 
Ramshevitches did not need a maid. There was no cooking 
to do, no beds to make—and no house to clean. There was 
no time for these things. So what did they need a maid for? 
Nevertheless with every hand the few cents were put aside 
and all of us knew that this went for rent and heat, for new 
decks of cards, and for food. Human beings must eat. And 
this I can say: there was as much to eat and drink as any of 
us ever wished for. 

And it was the same with cigarettes. Whole boxes full of 
cigarettes. And whoever wanted to reached for one. And the 
Ramshevitches smoked more than anybody; and she smoked 
more than he did. I cannot imagine Chayela Ramshevitch 
without a cigarette in her mouth. Add to this the powdered 
pockmarked face and the uncombed blond hair, with the 
tired, puffy eyes. And the rooms thick with smoke, and the 
noise and the tumult. Think of all these together and you 
can picture to yourself what the Chapel looked like at Han- 
nukah, when we could play cards openly and freely and we 



415 


Cnards 


did not have to hide ourselves, or worry about being seen by 

anv of the good people of the town. 

That day—I am now coming to the story of the cnards 

I was on the third shift. That is, I was one of the group that 
Lr down to play in the evening, when the second candle 
was lit, and didn't get up until it was time for the third can 

dle i, th was e not eV t e h n e n host-Velvel Ramshevitch-who lit the 
H LTa h candles that evening, but one of the guests an 
eleeant specimen—Eli Rafalski, one of those sons-in-la 
mentioned 6 earlier, who loved a card game more than ah 
most anything else in the world, but who never h e|ess had 
nnt straved from the path in matters of Godliness, mat was 
one h ng you m c ould P say about the Ramshevi.ches: they 

d"dn't ask you what you were. You could be as pious as you 

wanted to be: so long as you had something in y° u ; P£ kct ; 
and vou played Okeh, and there was room at the table tor 

another hand, you were welcome to si. ^n j.lh - 
were an honored guest! May my enemies have as m y 

"e^ye'wlth'p^e ^nig^and teTys^nsucces 

81 Well, there we were, sitting around the table, so absorbed 

-y -ked like .o h- 
frightened us so? I'll describe them to you as well as 1 can, 

an One rie o fl f y them was a tail man-long and .hm-j-long, 
black silken coat; earlocks—long ^ nd narro ^ beard 

almost to his belt; a fur cap on his head, and 8 



Sholom Aleichem 


416 


and a pair of whiskers so thick and black that if you had 
met this man on a dark night on a deserted road, you’d want 
to say your prayers. 

The other was just the opposite: short and round, also with 
earlocks and with a strange beard and whiskers, but not 
quite as overgrown as the other. In one hand he held a lan¬ 
tern and in the other a kerchief full of money. 

Noticing the effect they had on us, the tall, thin one with 
the curly earlocks smiled at us gently through his whiskers, 
and repeated, “Good evening, my dear people. We have 
come here to greet you in honor of Hannukah.” 

And as he spoke he looked around at the Hannukah can¬ 
dles at the far end of the room, then at the table with the 
cards, and heaved a deep sigh. His companion, the short, 
round one, sighed also. Both of them sought with their eyes 
for a place to sit down. 

Luckily the host, Ramshevitch, remembered that it was his 
duty to be polite, so he got up from the table and shook 
hands with the newcomers and asked them to sit down. And 
the rest of us followed suit, each one separately, some of us 
shaking hands with them and others just nodding from a dis¬ 
tance. 

The two sat down, looked at each other again, and gave 
another deep sigh. And once more the host remembered his 
manners. 

“What’s your name?’’ he asked, as one always should. 
“Where are you from? Have you been here long? Where are 
you going to?” 

It was the tall, thin one who answered, in a tone as sweet 
as honey. Speaking slowly, one word at a time and with a 
delicate sweet smile that came out of his thick and frightful 
whiskers (he did not even seem to be talking to us, but 
looked rather as if he were deep in prayer, in humble com¬ 
munion with the Lord), he said: 

“Vy dear friends, I am the grandchild of the Bal-Shem- 
Tnv. the founder of Chassidism. I have but one duty, to wan- 



417 


Cnards 


tfer about the world and collect money for the yeshivas, the 
holy seminaries, both here and in the Holy Land of our fa¬ 
thers.” . . 

And he sighed again. “And this is my companion who 

goes with me everywhere and who guards the contributions. 
With his eyes he indicated the fat one, and this time both of 
them sighed deeply. “We have devoted our whole life to the 
yeshivas, in order that God's Law may not be forgotten. 

“And so, my friends,” he continued, with another sigh, 

“give us a contribution—whatever you are able. One,” he 
said, nodding his head as if in prayer, “can give more, and 

another can give less.” 

And his companion, rolling his eyes aloft, added, And all 

who give more, will receive more from Heaven. 

And he laid his kerchief full of money on the table with 
a clang. A corner came open and we could see the glint of 


silver and gold. . 

Money, they say, attracts money. Seeing all the money a - 

ready in the kerchief, we had no cho.ce but to add more 

from our own pockets, and as we did it each one of u> though 

(I am sure of it): “Ah, if I had the money in that kerchief. 

What couldn’t I do with it ...” 

Our hostess, Chayela Ramshevitch, could not conceal her 

excitement. Her eyes fairly blazed. We were all aware of it 

even the Bal-Shem-ToVs grandchild and h.s companion, who 

was in no apparent hurry to remove the kerchief fronn her 

sight The two continued to sit there with their eyes on 

cards scattered around the table, and we could see that this 

was the first time in their fives that either one of them had 


seen such a thing. . ... 

At last the Bal-Shem-Tov's grandchild raised his eyes. 

dope I am not disturbing you, but I'd like to ask a questio , 
he said in his unctuous voice and with his soft, swee , 

pointing with an extended little finger at one card after an¬ 
other. "What sort of thing is this—on the able h • 

"Why, cards,” answered our host and hostess together, with 



Sholom Aleichem 


418 


a glance at us that seemed to say, “So there are still people 
on earth so uncivilized that they don’t even know what cards 
are!” 

The Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild shut an eye, wrinkled up 
his nose and forehead, turned his face toward his companion, 
and with an unearthly sigh, repeated: “Cnards?” 

And his companion, with a sigh of his own, repeated after 
him, “Cnards.” 

“No, that’s wrong,” Chayela Ramshevitch undertook to cor¬ 
rect them, without once taking her eyes off the kerchief full 
of money. “Not cnards—cards!” 

Naturally they did not say a word to her, nor did they turn 
their soft, smiling, clever eyes upon her. They were holy 
men, and such men, you understand, never glance at a fe¬ 
male. 

But turning to their host, Velvel himself, the Bal-Shem- 
Tov’s grandchild said, “I don’t want to disturb you, but tell 
me—what are these things—these cnards? What are they 
good for? That is, what do you do with them?” 

“You play with them,” answered Ramshevitch. “Don’t you 
know? When Hannukah comes, people play cards.” 

Again the Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild shut an eye, and 
turning his face slowly toward his companion, said: 

“When Hannukah comes—they play cnards.” 

“Imagine that,” echoed his companion. 

“But what does that mean?” asked the Bal-Shem-Tov’s 
grandchild, slowly, unctuously. “How does one play with 
these—cnards? And why? What for?” 

“For money,” answered Ramshevitch, looking from us to 
the kerchief on the table. 

Apparently this answer sounded wild and meaningless to 
both of them, for they turned upon each other with such a 
strange, bewildered expression that all of us burst out laugh¬ 
ing. 

But our hostess come to their defense. “What is there to 
laugh at?” she demanded, and lit a cigarette to hide her 
own laughter. And Ramshevitch helped her out by explain- 



419 


Cnards 


ing to them briefly and clearly the meaning and the use of 
cards; concluding with the observation that cards were both 
a diversion and a vocation. In short, you could say that cards 

were a trade. A trade like any other. 

And saying this, Velvel the cantor’s son-in-law picked up 
the cards again with a quick glance at all of us to see if we 
were ready, and to show the meddlers that we were busy 
and that time was short. Let them stop bothering us; it was 

time for them to get up and be on their way. 

But that was apparently not their intention. On the con¬ 
trary, they edged still closer to the table and stared at our 
host who was now shuffling the cards. Their eyes grew large 
as though they were expecting something to pop out at any 


minute. _ 

“I hope I am not disturbing you,” said the Bal-Shem-Tov s 

grandchild again in his unctuous tone and with his fine 

sweet smile ... . , 

“Do you want to watch us play?” Ramshevitch interrupted. 

“Then go ahead and watch. You can’t do us any harm. Wei , 

children! Let’s get to work! Time doesn’t stand still! Whose 

deal is it now?” 

And the interrupted work was resumed with a new vigor, 
a new warmth, with skill and cunning; as they say in so¬ 
ciety, with eclat . 

And the visitors looked on, listened to every word we 
said, and studied our hands. And every time that one of us 
cautiously looked at our covered card, our two guests ben 
and turned and twisted until they could see the card too and 
made such strange faces that it was all we could do to keep 
from splitting with laughter. It was lucky we were al so ab¬ 
sorbed in the game that nothing less than an earthquake 

could have disturbed us. 

I am afraid that I was the only one who really kept an eye 
on them. From time to time I looked up and I began o 
think that to them we must look even stranger than they did 
to us. We and not they were peculiar, involved in a strange 
pursuit, speaking a wild language and conducting ourselves 




Sholom Aleichem 


420 


in general like savages: sitting bareheaded, inhaling smoke, 
exchanging little squares of paper, throwing money into a 
plate, and talking to each other in a language that might 
have been Turkish or Greek. For who could understand the 
meaning of pass, deuce, pair, flush, jack, queen, king, ace, and 
other such words that belong to the language of cards? 

I can swear to you that we had forgotten all about the 
two holy men in our midst, when suddenly a pale white 
hand came slapping down on the deck of cards, and we 
heard these words: 

“There! Now we understand it! We’ve caught on to it! 
It’s a temptation, I tell you! A terrible temptation! The work 
of the devil himself and all the evil spirits! Do us a favor, 
please! Give us some too! Oh, what a diabolic invention! I 
hope the Lord will pardon us. Man is sinful. I beg you, 
give us some! We want to feel the taste of these cnards too!” 

It was the Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild who said this. He 
said it in such a trembling voice, with such fire and feeling, 
almost with tears in his eyes, that it almost tore our hearts 
out. And to our sympathy was added the sight of the ker¬ 
chief full of gold and silver . . . Each one of us, I am 
afraid, would have liked the kerchief and what was in it to 
become his personal property. You should have seen our 
Chayela Ramshevitch. Her eyes were aflame and her cheeks 
were flushed, and she said to her husband and to the rest of 
us: 

“They are asking us a favor. Why shouldn’t we let them? 
After all, it’s Hannukah .” And her eyes were on the kerchief 
with the money which the Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild had 
now drawn close to him, and from which with trembling 
fingers he was taking out coin after coin, one for himself 
and one for his companion, making two even piles of silver, 
one for each of them. At the same time he murmured to 
himself apologetically: 

“Never mind! We have a great and powerful God! If we 
wvv. \he yeshivas will have more money. And if we should 



421 


Cnards 


lose, then the Lord will pardon us. He is long-suffering, aj 
Jeremiah so truthfully said.” 

Thus he spoke, with a glance aloft, and his companion fol¬ 
lowed him, also with an upward glance and with these holy 

words: 

‘‘Long-suffering and full of kindness and truth. 

All of this happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that 
not one of us had time even to be surprised. It seemed as 
natural as could be. And in addition I must confess that our 
minds were playing with the kerchief of money and our eyes 

were fixed on the two piles of silver. 

There was only one thing left to decide: which of us 
should drop out. With two new players added, the question 
now was, which of us should make room for them. You un¬ 
derstand, of course, that none of us was anxious to retire 
when the rare opportunity presented itself of playing with 
the grandchild of so holy a man as the Bal-Shem-Tov, espe¬ 
cially when he had been so thoughtful as to have brought 
with him a kerchief full of money. And the argument began. 
“You go take a rest.” ‘‘No, you.” ‘‘Why should I?” “You 

look tired/' 

The first to be sacrificed on the altar of hospitality was 
the pampered son-in-law I have already told you about Eli 
Rafalski, the one who a little earlier in the evening had lit 
the Hannukah candles for us. And it was our hostess, Chay- 
ela Ramshevitch, who decided that. She insisted that it was 
time for him to go home. It was late, his wife’s parents 
would complain; they might even create a scandal, and it 

would get them all into trouble. 

That was her excuse, but all of us knew the truth. Eli had 

lost all he had and no one wanted to let him have any 
more. In the midst of a game no one loans out money. 

That took care of one. For the second we drew lots. And 
then we went to work. Little by little the two fresh even 
stacks of silver disappeared, the kerchief became lighter and 
lighter, while in front of each of us now appeared the fund, 



Sfaolom Aleichem 


once destined for the yeshivas of all the world. Soon the 
kerchief was almost empty and it began to look as if the 
Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild would be lucky if he still had his 
gabardine to go away in. We were beginning to wonder 
what would happen if we took their last kopek away. What 
would the town say? What would the whole world say? 

But all of you who play the game know the mysterious 
quality that cards possess. One minute you’re flat on the 
ground, ready to be carried out in a blanket, and suddenly 
your luck changes—you don’t know yourself how it hap¬ 
pened! That’s just what happened to our visitors. They be¬ 
gan to win hand after hand, especially when the Bal-Shem- 
Tov’s grandchild began to deal. 

“They are possessed by the devil. Let me have them,” he 
said, taking the cards and beginning to deal them out, at 
first clumsily and inaccurately, with trembling, inexperienced 
hands, and eyes that followed each card until it landed. 
Looking at him we could not suppress our laughter. But as 
time went on he began to do it faster and faster until the 
cards sped from his hands in an endless stream. And every¬ 
thing went his way. No matter what cards you had, he had 
better ones. If you had three jacks, he had three queens. If 
you had kings, he had aces. If you had aces, he had a flush. 
And if you became frightened and dropped out with an un¬ 
promising pair, he had nothing at all! Until, with a start, he 
pushed his chair back, sprang to his feet, and stretched him¬ 
self. 

“Rahoisi!” he cried, gathering up his winnings and stuff¬ 
ing them not into the kerchief but into his own pockets. 
And then with a glance aloft he sighed, and his companion 
followed him with the same upward glance and the same 
sigh, and finished the quotation from the Passover services 
which the other had started: 

“Masters, the time has come to say the morning prayersV* 

Stunned and sleepy, hungry and depressed, sulking as los¬ 
ers always do, we remained sitting a while, unable to move. 
Then gradually one by one we got up and went uo to the 


423 


Cnards 


table for a drink and a bite to eat. That is, all except our 
two guests, who were ready to take their leave, and coming 
to the doorway did not forget to kiss the inazuza. 

But suddenly our host, Velvel Ramshevitch, jumped in 
front of them, and spreading out his arms, blocked their way 

with these words: 

“Oh, no! You can’t go away from here without taking a 
bite to eat!” 

Velvel could not have imagined a vengeance more com¬ 
plete. Our poor guests stood as though trapped, looking at 
each other as if we were forcing them to empty their pockets 
of all their winnings. The first to recover his speech was the 
Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild, who addressed us once more with 
his unctuous tone and his sweet little smile: 

“We thank you wholeheartedly for your kindness. Hospital¬ 
ity to wayfarers is, according to our Law, one of the greatest 
of all acts of virtue. But you must not forget that my com¬ 
panion and I are careful about what meat we allow to touch 

our lips. No doubt it’s kosher, but ...” 

That was too much for us. “Oh, so you can’t eat our food 
we cried. “You’re afraid it isn’t kosher enough for you, but 
our cards were kosher enough? To take our money away was 
proper enough? No, we won’t let you get away with that 
You tasted our hospitality at the card table; now you must 


taste some sausage too!” _ . CJ 

Crestfallen, they looked at each other. Then the Bal-Shem- 

Tov’s grandchild let out a deep sigh, almost a groan, and 

said to us. “Just as you say, my friends. After all, we are in 

a Jewish home, and we must never hesuspie.ousofourown 
people. And what if the food, heaven forbid, is not as kosher 
as it might be? Our Lord is a great and mighty One . . . 

And murmuring a prayer that none of us could make out 
he turned humbly toward the table where our hostess was 
preparing sardines, herring and sausages. P'ck.neupa glas 
he turned to us. “Your health, my friends I drink your 
health,” he said, and lifted the glass and ba re| y moistened 
lips Then, with a trembling hand he took a bite of herring. 



Sholom Aleiehem 


424 


and then a thin slice of sausage. His companion followed 
him, and together they struggled with their food, almost 
choking on it. And only when they were through did Velvel 
take his full revenge. Without a trace of pity, he addressed 
them in these words: 

“Do you know what you have just eaten? It was not Jew¬ 
ish food at all. Do you know what kind of sausage that was? 
Do you know what it was made of? Gentlemen, you have 
just been eating real, genuine . . 

Before he could finish the sentence our two visitors 
clutched their heads in terror, opened their mouths wide as 
if to spit everything out, and then with a bitter groan sprang 
for the door and swept out of the house like a cyclone. 

Our vengeance was so complete that we almost forgot 
how much we had lost that night, forgot the depths to 
which we had sunk, and looking at each other we laughed 
and laughed and laughed. We thought we would never stop 
laughing, but we did—and suddenly too—when from the 
table where we had been playing we heard a shriek that was 
barely human. 

“Quick! Quick! Come here! Oh, may lightning strike me! 
I can’t bear it!” 

It was Chayela Ramshevitch. We had not even noticed that 
as soon as she had finished eating she had gone back to the 
table to clean things up. First, as always, she gathered up the 
cards we had played with; they could still be sold or traded 
for new decks. And in sorting out the cards she had noticed 
something strange. There were too many aces—far too many. 
Six or seven to the deck. 

We grabbed up the rest of the cards and discovered not 
only aces but a wealth of everything else as well: kings and 
queens and jacks, in fact everything! And many of them! 
Well, we didn’t go home to rest as we had planned. Instead, 
we made a pilgrimage. We went to every synagogue in 
town, visited every chapel and prayer house. We looked ev¬ 
erywhere, searched everywhere, asked everywhere. But no one 



425 


Cnards 


had seen the Bal-Shem-Tov’s grandchild and his companion. 

No one had even heard of them. 

Unsuccessful, dejected, we decided to try the railroad sta¬ 
tion. There we searched everywhere. We went through the 
station itself, through every carriage in the waiting train 
Not a sign of the grandchild or his companion. The earth 

must have swallowed them both! 

It was after the third bell had rung, the last whistle had 
blown, that we heard a familiar voice from one of the car¬ 
riages. 

“Cnards!” # , , . 

We sprang toward the carriage from which the word had 

come. From an open window of a second-class carriage, two 

strange men were watching us with interest and amusement. 

One was tall and thin, the other short and fat. Both were 

clean-shaven, both wore short tailored jackets and derby hats. 

And yet they were familiar. Not so much the faces as the 

eyes—soft, smiling, shrewd little eyes. 

The first to recognize them was the pampered son-in-law 
Eli Rafalski. As soon as he saw their smiling faces he pointed 

straight at them: 

“There they are!” he cried. ‘‘There they are! The two 
cnard players—as sure as my name is Rafalski!” 

But the train was already moving. The wheels had just be¬ 
gun to turn. And slowly passing us by, the two men looked 
at us once more with their soft, smiling shrewd eyes. And 
for Eli Rafalski, who had been so acute as to recognize them, 

they had a special farewell. 

Together they raised their thumbs to their noses, and 
made a broad arc with their outstretched fingers. 



GLOSSARY* 


Al-kein n'Kvach Vcho ( Al-ken ne Kave lecho): The begin¬ 
ning of the second part of the prayer Alenu: “Therefore we 
hope . . 

Bar Mitzvah: A thirteen-year-old Jewish boy who is con¬ 
firmed; the confirmation ceremony itself. 
beigel (bagel): Hard circular roll with hole in the center like 
a doughnut. 

blintzes: Cheese or kasha rolled in thin dough and fried. 
bris: Circumcision ceremony. 

Bubi-Kama (Baba Kama): “First Gate,” a Talmudic treatise 
on compensation for damages. 

chad gadyo (Had Gadya): “One Kid,” an Aramaic nursery 
song sung at the conclusion of the Seder home service on 
Passover. 

Chassidim: Plural of chassid; members of a mythical sect 
founded in the middle of the 18th Century by Rabbi Bal- 
Shem. 

cheder: Old-style orthodox Hebrew school. 

* Many of the spellings of Hebrew words used in these stories are 
rendered phonetically as they occurred in popular usage. In such 
cases, throughout the glossary, the correct transliterated spelling is 
given in parentheses. 



Glossary 


427 


cholent: Potted meat and vegetables cooked on Friday and 
simmered overnight for Sabbath eating- 
chrernzlach: Fried matzo pancakes, usually served with jelly 

or sprinkled with powdered sugar. 
datcha: Summer cottage in the country. 

dreidel (from the German drehen, “to turn”): A small top, 
spun with the fingers, and played with by children on Han- 

nukah in East European countries. 
dybbuk (same as gilgul): A soul condemned to wander for a 
time in this world. To escape the perpetual torments from 
evil spirits it seeks refuge in the body of a pious man or 
woman over whom the demons have no power. 
eirev (erub): The law limiting the movements of the pious and 
the carrying of objects on the Sabbath, hence also the rope 

used to define the area of free movement. . 

esrog (ethrog): A large sweet-smelling citrus-fruit of the 
lemon family waved together with palm, myrtle and willow 
branches in the synagogue procession during the Feast or 


Tabernacles. . 

fisnoga: Comical combination of the Yiddish fis (feet) and the 

Russian noga (feet). 

gabai: Synagogue treasurer. _ . » • 

Gamorah (Gemara ): The Aramaic name for the Talmud, i.e. 

to learn. (See Talmud). 

gilgul (sec dybbuk). 

gospoda (Russian): Term of address, Gen ^" ien * 
gragar: A noisemaking toy used by Jewish children during the 

Purim festival; a rasping chatterbox. 
gribbenes: Small crisp pieces left from rendered poultry fat, 

eaten as a delicacy. 
privnve ' Silver coin worth ten kopeks. 

groschen: Small German silver coin whose old value was about 

gulden: An Austrian silver florin worth about fol ^“8 h t cen^. 
Hagadah: The book containing the Passover home service, 
consisting in large part of the narrative of the Jewish Ex- 

odus from Egypt. 



Glossary 


428 


hamantash: A triangular pocket of dough filled with poppy 
seed or prunes and eaten on Purim. 

Hannukah (Channukah): Described variously as “The Festival 
of Lights,” “The Feast of Dedication,” and “The Feast of 
the Maccabees.” It is celebrated for eight days from the 
25th day of Kislev (December). It was instituted by Judas 
Maccabeus and the elders of Israel in 165 B.C. to com¬ 
memorate the rout of the invader Antiochus Ephinanes, and 
the purification of the Temple sanctuary. 
haroses: A mixture of nuts and apples to symbolize the clay 
which the children of Israel worked into bricks as slaves in 
Egypt. Eaten at the Seder services on Passover. 

Hashono Rabo (Hoshana Rabbah): The seventh day of Suc- 
coth (Feast of Booths). 

Kabala {Cabala): Called “the hidden wisdom,” mystical, eso¬ 
teric knowledge that, beginning with the 13th Century, arose 
in opposition to the rationalism of the Talmud, 
kaddish: The mourner’s prayer recited in synagogue twice 
daily for one year by the immediate male relatives, above 
thirteen years, of the deceased. 
kasha: Groats. 

Kazatsky (Kazatske): A lively Russian dance. 
kneidlach: Balls of boiled matzo meal cooked in chicken soup. 
knishes: Potato or kasha dumpling, fried or baked. 
kopek: A small copper coin; there are 100 kopeks in a ruble, 
kosher: Food that is permitted to be eaten and prepared ac¬ 
cording to the Jewish dietary laws. 
kreplach: Small pockets of dough filled with chopped meat, 
usually boiled and eaten with chicken soup. 
kugel: Noodle or bread suet pudding, frequently cooked with 
raisins. 

mah nishtano: Literally, “What is the difference?” The first 
words in the opening “Four Questions” of the Passover 
Hagadah, traditionally asked by the youngest child in the 
household at the Seder service. (See Seder), 
matzos: Unleavened bread eaten exclusively during Passover to 
recall the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. 



429 


Glossary 


mazl-tov: Good luck! 

mazuza (mezuzah ): Small rectangular piece of parchment in¬ 
scribed with the passages Deut. VI. 4-9 and XI. 13-21, and 
written in 22 lines. The parchment is rolled up and inserted 
in a wooden or metal case and nailed in a slanting position 
to the right-hand doorpost of every orthodox Jewish resi¬ 
dence as a talisman against evil. 

Megila {Megillah): Literally, “a roll,” referring to the Book 
of Esther which is read aloud in the synagogue on Punm. 
Medresh {Midrash): A body of exegetical literature, devo¬ 
tional and ethical in character, which attempts to illuminate 
the literal text of the Bible with its inner meanings. The 
Midrash is constantly cited by pious and learned Jews in 
Scriptural and Talmudic disputation. 
melamed: Old style orthodox Hebrew teacher. 

Mishnayos (The Mishna): A compilation of oral laws and 
Rabbinic teachings, edited by Judah ha-Nasi in the early 
3rd Century A.D., which forms the text of the Talmud. It 
is obligatory for pious Jews to study it constantly. 

Mohel: The religious functionary who performs circumcisions. 
nogid: A rich man, leading secular citizen of a community. 
nu: Exclamatory question, i.e. “Well? So what? 

Oleinu {Alenu): Literally, “it is our duty,” the last prayer in 

the daily Jewish liturgy. 

Pesach: Passover, the festival commemorating the liberatio 
the Jews from their bondage in Egypt. It lasts seven days, 
beginning with the 15th of Nisan (March-April). 

Perek: A chapter of the Talmud. 


piatekas: Fi \e-kopek piece. 

Pupik: Navel; a term of teasing endearment. 

Purim: Festival of Lots, celebrating the deliverance of the J 
from Haman’s plot to exterminate them, recounte ^ in f 
Book of Esther. It is celebrated on the 14th and 15 
Adar the 12th Jewish lunar month (March). 

Rabbiner: A crown rabbi, chosen by election at th ® require¬ 
ment of the Czar, to be an official functionary. Genera y 

unpopular in old Russia. 



Glossary 


430 


Raboisi ( Raboisai): Respectful Hebrew term of address used 
in Talmudic disputation, saying grace after meals, etc. Liter¬ 
ally, “my masters.” 

Rambam: Popular name for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Mai- 
monides) eminent, Spanish-Jewish philosopher and physi¬ 
cian (1135-1204). 

Reb: Mister. 

Rosh Hashono (Rosh Hashanah): The Jewish New Year, cel¬ 
ebrated on the 1st of Tishri (in September), is the most 
solemn day next to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). 

Rov: Rabbi. 

schnorrer: A shameless beggar. 

seder: The home service performed on the first two nights of 
Passover (see Hagadah ). 

Shabbes: Sabbath (Saturday). 

shadchan: Marriage-broker. 

Shahu notch shomayem (bastardized Russian-Hebrew): Walk 
at night under the heavens. 

shammes (pi. shamosim ): Sexton. 

sheigetz (pi. shkotzim): A Gentile youth. 

sheitel: A wig worn by ultra-orthodox married women. 

Shevuos ( Shabuot ): Variously known as “The Festival of 
Weeks” and “Pentecost.” It originally was a harvest festival 
and is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. 

shi-shi (s his hi): Sixth part of the Scriptural portion for the 
week read aloud on the Sabbath in the synagogue, and re¬ 
garded as a great honor for the reader. 

shkotzim: Plural of sheigetz . 

shlimazl: An incompetent person, one who has perpetual bad 
luck. Everything happens to him. 

Shma Koleinu (Shema Koleinu): “Hear our voices!” The first 
words of a Day of Atonement hymn; a popular idiom mean¬ 
ing: “idiot.” 

Shma Yisroel (Shema Yisroel): The first words in the con¬ 
fession of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our 
God the Lord is One!” 

Shmin-esra (Shemoneh ’Esreh ): Eighteen (actually nineteen) 



431 


Glossary 


benedictions, forming the most important part of the daily 
prayers, recited silently, standing up, by the worshipper. 
shochet (pi. shochtim): Ritual slaughterer. 
shofar: Ram’s horn blown in the synagogue at services on 
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

Sholorn Aleichem: Peace be unto you. 
shul: Synagogue. 

Simchas Torah: “Rejoicing over the Torah,” the last day of 
Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles), celebrating the completion 

of the reading of the Torah. 
starosta: Village elder or “mayor” in Czarist Russia. 
succah: A booth made of fresh green branches in which pious 
Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This is done sym¬ 
bolically to recall the forty years’ wandering—“that your 
generations may know that I made the children ol Israel to 
dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of 
Egypt.” 

Succos (Succoth): The Feast of Tabernacles, survival of the 
ancient festival on which male Jews were required to go on 
a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Lasts nine days 
and begins on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month of 
Tishri (September-October). 
tallis (tallith): Prayer-shawl. 

tallis-kot’n (tallith katon): “Small tallis,” a four-cornered 
fringed undergarment worn by male orthodox Jews in pur¬ 
suance of the Biblical commandment to wear a garment 

with fringes. 

Talmud: The Corpus Juris of the Jews, a compilation of the 
religious, ethical and legal teachings and decisions interpret¬ 
ing the Bible; finished c. A.D. 500. 
t fill in: Phylacteries. 

Thilim: Psalms of David. 

Torah: “Doctrine” or “law”; the name is applied to the five 
books of Moses, i.e. the Pentateuch. 

Troika: A Russian sleigh drawn by three horses. 
tzimmes: Dessert made of sweetened carrots or noodles. 
vareniki: Fried dough filled with cheese or jelly. 



432 


Glossary 

verst: A Russian measure of distance, equal to about 2 A of an 
English mile. 

vertutin: Cheese or cooked cherries rolled in dough. 

Yekum Perkon (Yekum Purkan ); Aramaic prayer in the Sab¬ 
bath service. 

yeshiva: Talmudic college. 

Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement; the most important Jewish 
religious holiday; a fast day, spent in solemn prayer, self¬ 
searching of heart and confession of sins by the individual 
in direct communion with God. It takes place on the tenth 
day of Tishri, eight days after Rosh Hashanah (New Year). 

yom-tev (yom-tov): Holiday.